Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Non-specific symptoms as clues to changes in emotional well-being

Andre Matalon12, Andy Kotliroff1, Gari Blumberg13*, John Yaphe4 and Eliezer Kitai13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, 69978, Israel

2 Department of Family Medicine, Clalit Health Services, Rabin Medical Center, Beilinson Hospital, Petach Tikva 49100 Israel

3 Department of Family Medicine, Leumit Health Services, 23 Shprintzak Street, Tel Aviv, Israel

4 Community Health, School of Health Sciences, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal

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BMC Family Practice 2011, 12:77  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-77

Published: 26 July 2011


Background -

Somatic symptoms are a common reason for visits to the family physician. The aim of this study was to examine the relation between non-specific symptoms and changes in emotional well-being and the degree to which the physician considers the possibility of mental distress when faced with such patients.

Methods -

Patients who complained of two or more symptoms including headache, dizziness, fatigue or weakness, palpitations and sleep disorders over one year were identified from the medical records of a random sample of 45 primary care physicians. A control group matched for gender and age was selected from the same population. Emotional well-being was assessed using the MOS-SF 36 in both groups.

Results -

The study group and the control group each contained 110 patients. Completed MOS questionnaires were obtained from 92 patients, 48 patients with somatic symptoms and 44 controls. Sixty percent of the patients with somatic symptoms experienced decreased emotional well being compared to 25% in the control group (p = 0.00005). Symptoms of dizziness, fatigue and sleep disturbances were significantly linked with mental health impairments. Primary care physicians identified only 6 of 29 patients (21%) whose responses revealed functional limitations due to emotional problems as suffering from an emotional disorder and only 6 of 23 patients (26%) with a lack of emotional well being were diagnosed with an emotional disorder.

Conclusions -

Non-specific somatic symptoms may be clues to changes in emotional well-being. Improved recognition and recording of mental distress among patients who complain of these symptoms may enable better follow up and treatment.

somatic; non-specific symptoms; depression; anxiety