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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Abridged somatization: A study in primary care

  • Author(s): Escobar, JI
  • Waitzkin, H
  • Silver, RC
  • Gara, M
  • Holman, A
  • et al.

Objective: We examined the prevalence, correlates, and predictive value of an abbreviated somatization index, based on specific symptom thresholds, in primary care patients using services at a university-affiliated clinic. Method: We interviewed 1456 patients with a survey instrument that included the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) to elicit symptoms and diagnoses of several psychiatric disorders as well as demographic information and a measure of disability. Statistical analyses examined the relationship of abridged somatization with physical functioning and various demographic and diagnostic factors. Results: About one fifth of this primary care sample met the abridged somatization criteria. 'Somatizers,' defined according to these criteria, had significantly higher levels of psychiatric comorbidity and disability than 'nonsomatizers'. Analyses taking into account the number and type of organ/body systems represented by the unexplained symptoms showed that this dimension adds specificity to the prediction of outcomes. Thus, regardless of the total number of medically unexplained symptoms, abridged somatization with unexplained symptoms attributable to four or more organ/body systems showed the strongest association with disability and psychopathology. Conclusions: Abridged Somatization is a frequent syndrome in primary care that is strongly associated with psychopathology and physical disability. Our research also yielded a new series of abridged somatization subtypes (eg, 'discrete' vs. 'comorbid' and 'simple' vs. 'polymorphous') that may effectively separate among various psychopathologies, and may become useful tools for future research with somatizing patients.

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