Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 49, Issue 11, pp 1793–1804

Somatization in refugees: a review

  • Hans G. Rohlof
  • Jeroen W. Knipscheer
  • Rolf J. Kleber
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00127-014-0877-1

Cite this article as:
Rohlof, H.G., Knipscheer, J.W. & Kleber, R.J. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2014) 49: 1793. doi:10.1007/s00127-014-0877-1



To present a review of the literature concerning medically unexplained physical symptoms in refugees.


We outline a variety of definitions and explanations of somatization, as well as the role of culture in the concept of disease. In addition, we present a review of the epidemiological literature about somatization in refugees.


Refugees from non-Western countries exhibit more unexplained somatic symptoms than the general Western population. Although different studies have employed different methodologies and are therefore difficult to compare, it can be concluded that refugees form a particular population in which somatization is prominent.


Potential, not mutually exclusive, explanations of the high number of somatic symptoms in the refugee population include general psychopathology, specifically traumatisation, results of torture, and stigmatisation of psychiatric care. There are implications for assessment, clinical treatment and further research concerning somatization in refugees.


Refugees Migrants Somatization Medically unexplained physical symptoms Traumatization 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans G. Rohlof
    • 1
  • Jeroen W. Knipscheer
    • 2
  • Rolf J. Kleber
    • 2
  1. 1.Foundation Centrum’45/Foundation ArqOegstgeestThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Utrecht University/Foundation ArqUtrechtThe Netherlands

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