Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Prevalence of somatization disorder

Most of us experience sensations or symptoms that are not related to an obvious illness at some time or other. Indeed, Hiller et al. (2006) reported that 82 per cent of their large population sample had experienced such symptoms in the previous week. Symptom reporting was highest among women, those aged over 45 years, with a lower educational level, lower household income, and from rural areas.

The most common symptoms included various types of pain, food intolerance, and ‘sexual indifference’. This background of symptom reporting makes if difficult to assess levels of somatization disorder – where the level of symptoms has become pathological. However, Creed and Barsky (2004) estimated that, at any one time, between 0.1 and 0.7 per cent of the general population would be given this diagnosis. Among people in medical wards, Fink et al. (2004) estimated its prevalence as 5.2 per cent, with a signifi cant difference between the rates among men and women (3.8 and 7.5 per cent respectively). It is often accompanied by high levels of depression or anxiety (Henningsen et al. 2003).

Comparing rates of somatization disorder across countries and cultures is diffi cult, as people from some cultures are more likely to ‘somatize’, or report psychological symptoms in terms of physical states, than others. Accordingly, care must be taken not to ‘diagnose’ somatization among people from cultures in which somatic symptoms are a frequent way of reporting of emotional distress, where some form of mood or anxiety disorder may be more appropriate.

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