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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patients presenting with somatic complaints in general practice: depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders are frequent and associated with psychosocial stressors

Nader Haftgoli1, Bernard Favrat1, François Verdon2, Paul Vaucher1, Thomas Bischoff2, Bernard Burnand3 and Lilli Herzig2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ambulatory Care and Community Medicine, University of Lausanne, Bugnon 44, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

2 Institute of General Medicine, University of Lausanne, Bugnon 44, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

3 Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and University of Lausanne, Bugnon 21, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

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BMC Family Practice 2010, 11:67  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-11-67

Published: 15 September 2010

Abstract

Background

Mental disorders in primary care patients are frequently associated with physical complaints that can mask the disorder. There is insufficient knowledge concerning the role of anxiety, depression, and somatoform disorders in patients presenting with physical symptoms. Our primary objective was to determine the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders among primary care patients with a physical complaint. We also investigated the relationship between cumulated psychosocial stressors and mental disorders.

Methods

We conducted a multicentre cross-sectional study in twenty-one private practices and in one academic primary care centre in Western Switzerland. Randomly selected patients presenting with a spontaneous physical complaint were asked to complete the self-administered Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) between November 2004 and July 2005. The validated French version of the PHQ allowed the diagnosis of mental disorders (DSM-IV criteria) and the analyses of exposure to psychosocial stressors.

Results

There were 917 patients exhibiting at least one physical symptom included. The rate of depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders was 20.0% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 17.4% to 22.7%), 15.5% (95% CI = 13.2% to 18.0%), and 15.1% (95% CI = 12.8% to 17.5%), respectively. Psychosocial stressors were significantly associated with mental disorders. Patients with an accumulation of psychosocial stressors were more likely to present anxiety, depression, or somatoform disorders, with an increase of 2.2 fold (95% CI = 2.0 to 2.5) for each additional stressor.

Conclusions

The investigation of mental disorders and psychosocial stressors among patients with physical complaints is relevant in primary care. Psychosocial stressors should be explored as potential epidemiological causes of mental disorders.