Somatization in refugees: a review

Abstract

Purpose

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

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A branch of Foundation Centrum '45, the National Expert Centre for the Treatment of Victims of Persecution, War and Violence, Rijnzichtweg 35, 2342 AX Oegstgeest.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Hans G. Rohlof.

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Rohlof, H.G., Knipscheer, J.W. & Kleber, R.J. Somatization in refugees: a review. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 49, 1793–1804 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-014-0877-1

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Keywords

  • Refugees
  • Migrants
  • Somatization
  • Medically unexplained physical symptoms
  • Traumatization