Doctors Give Hope to Patients With Long Histories of Unexplained Symptoms
By DAN HURLEY
22 August 2006
People with a long history of medically unexplained symptoms — aches, pains, fatigue, dizziness and other complaints for which doctors can find no physical cause — might finally find relief.
Two new studies by researchers who specialize in the baffling condition called somatization syndrome, estimated to affect up to 3 percent of adults, suggest that the quest for a physical explanation may take on a destructive life of its own. Instead, those with the syndrome should focus on practical strategies to regain normal function and relieve symptoms, the researchers say.
One study, by German scientists, sought to explain why the doctors’ reassurances were generally ineffective with such patients. The researchers played taped comments by a doctor about a hypothetical patient for two groups of participants, people who had the syndrome and people who did not. Those with somatization syndrome were three times as likely to believe incorrectly that in the course of the comments the doctor had said the symptom had a worrisome physical cause.
The findings, in the August issue of the online journal Public Library of Science Medicine, offer at least a partial explanation for why patients often go from doctor to doctor and take test after test in a fruitless search for answers: repeated reassurances are simply not being understood.
A second study, by New Jersey researchers, provides the first published evidence of an effective clinical treatment. The study, in the July 24 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, found that patients benefited from 10 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically organized to help relieve their stress and increase emotional awareness and to get them to become more socially active and think differently about their symptoms.
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