Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 41, Issue 9, pp 704–712 | Cite as

Somatization in the population: from mild bodily misperceptions to disabling symptoms

  • Wolfgang HillerEmail author
  • Winfried Rief
  • Elmar Brähler



This study investigates the prevalence of current somatization in the population by taking different levels of symptom severity into account. Somatization is described along a continuum from mild and negligible bodily misperceptions to severe and disabling somatoform symptoms.


A representative sample of 2.552 persons in Germany was examined with a screening instrument for medically unexplained physical complaints that had occurred during the past 7 days. All 53 symptoms from the ICD-10/DSM-IV sections of somatoform disorders were included.


81.6% reported at least one symptom causing at least mild impairment and 22.1% at least one symptom causing severe impairment. The entire sample had an average of 6.6 symptoms associated with at least mild distress. Somatization of any degree was associated with female gender, age above 45, lower educational level, lower household income and rural area. The most common symptoms with prevalence rates > 20% were various types of pain (back, head, joints, extremities), food intolerance, sexual indifference, painful menstruations and erectile/ejaculatory dysfunction.


This population survey demonstrates that medically unclear complaints are an everyday phenomenon. About three out of four cases are below clinical relevance with only low level of impairment. Epidemiological correlates are similar between clinical and non-clinical forms of somatization.

Key words

somatization somatoform disorders  symptom severity population survey prevalence 


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Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag Darmstadt 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang Hiller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Winfried Rief
    • 2
  • Elmar Brähler
    • 3
  1. 1.Dept. of Clinical PsychologyUniversity of MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Dept. of Clinical PsychologyUniversity of MarburgMarburgGermany
  3. 3.Dept. Medical Psychology and Medical SociologyUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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