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Medically Unexplained Symptoms Amanda Howe MA MEd MD FRCGP Professor of Primary Care University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K. 13 th international Course,

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Presentation on theme: "Medically Unexplained Symptoms Amanda Howe MA MEd MD FRCGP Professor of Primary Care University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K. 13 th international Course,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Medically Unexplained Symptoms Amanda Howe MA MEd MD FRCGP Professor of Primary Care University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K. 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

2 ‘MUS’ patients who present in primary care with a variety of physical symptoms, for whom we find it difficult to arrive at a clear diagnosis a challenge / threat to the doctor? Spectrum of presentations linked with Some ‘frequent attenders’ / ‘heart sink’ Functional disorders – symptoms best explained by abnormalities of function, in the absence of disease Physical presentations of anxiety and / or depression Somatisation – the physical presentation of psychological distress Somatoform disorders Approaches relate to consultation skills / reattribution 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

3 What do we already know? 1.How are symptoms caused? 2.What are the underlying physiological mechanisms? 3.Give examples of physical conditions known to be influenced by psychological states 4.How do we learn to understand our experiences? 5.What is the role of health beliefs in illness experience? 6.How do patients present distress to clinicians?

4 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT Some more questions... 1.What proportion of people have significant psychological distress when they consult in a UK primary care population? 2.How do sociodemographic factors influence presentation and diagnosis? 3.What are the difficulties of discussing the mind – body continuum with patients? 4.What are the difficulties of conceptualising the mind – body continuum anyway? 5.Or is it a mind – body split?!.....

5 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT Context 1 in 4 – 5 people consulting are significantly more psychologically distressed than the population ‘norm’ Based on ‘match’ of views with measures e.g. GHQ ‘High’ and ‘low’ pickup by clinicians appears based on their consultation style and ?? beliefs / expectations Detection and discussion of psychological aspects commoner if -> –Clinical ‘antennae’ are working –Patients themselves raise emotions / psychological aspects –Women > men, life events > none, midlife > older / young –Varying cultural expectations (on both sides)

6 Consulting across the body – mind divide – some (contestable) claims All experiences have psychological aspects All illnesses have a psychological impact, because illness is a threat to self Symptoms common (‘iceberg’), often unexplained Cultural awareness and acceptance of the mind – body are conditioned through emotional expressiveness and insight Insight into, knowledge of, and effective coping responses for illhealth are useful adaptive mechanisms for us all Effective intra – and interpersonal communication is essential to dealing with illness effectively, both for management AND diagnosis Doing this well involves skills and attitudes as well as knowledge 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

7 What patient features are known to be associated with MUS? 1.Adverse social circumstances Anxious reaction Hyperattention to symptoms Difficulty expressing feelings Poor peer relationships Previous illness prolonged Other behavioural or functional problems Intermittent or atypical pattern Minor physical signs 2.Learned behaviour Psychological gain Emotional gain Attention seeking Introversion Excessive sensitivity to physical sensation Anxiety / depression Previous illness and lack of care increase dysfunctional response to adversity School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

8 Why do patients differ in their experience and expression of symptoms? Children learn from the relationship between their own behaviours and the responses of others the early ‘mother’ - infant relationship as ‘a homeostatic regulatory system that facilitates the emergence of a primitive mind from the bodily functions of the infant’ (Mahler, 1972) 1 Move over time from external to internal regulation, with development of independence Loss/separation always a threat to self identity Link to MUS – constitutional and learned ways of dealing with emotion, embodied through neurophysiological pathways 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

9 Factors influencing this pathway School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice Genetic / constitutional factorsHome / child rearing Socioeconomic factors Developmental stage Life eventsSignificant others Cultural and social environment

10 Explanatory concepts - self esteem, coping and resilience Psychological resilience ‘the ability to adjust successfully to major life changes’ – a stable personality trait that minimises negative effects of stress and promotes adaptation 2 Coping mechanisms 3 – cognitive and emotional appraisal: rethinking the problem, reconsidering your reactions Extroversion (expression of feelings) - linked with less physical symptoms and better sense of wellbeing - ‘the correlation between potential health problems and inhibition of behaviour and emotional expression is seen by the (age of) 2 years old’ 4 Self esteem – dependent on successful attachments * Constructive psychological approaches in adult life are correlated with stable caring relationships in childhood, and weakened by disruptions in emotional security* 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

11 Consulting with patients with MUS Key components to detecting Consultation skills Establishing a rapport Open questions Cueing Exploring ideas, concerns and expectations (ICE) Checking understanding Full history and examination Key components to managing Respect and acceptance Time Choices Focused explanation Linking mind and body *reattribution* Clear expectations of next steps Multilevel management 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

12 School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT Reattribution Four crucial stages in the consultation process: Feeling understood: The general practitioner elicits a history of the physical symptoms, explores the patient’s beliefs about these symptoms and associated psychosocial and lifestyle factors, and makes a brief focussed physical examination Broadening the agenda beyond the presenting physical symptoms. The doctor feeds back the results of the examination and any recent investigations, and explains the lack of serious underlying pathology. The doctor explicitly acknowledges the reality of the patient’s physical symptoms, and explores the extent of the patient’s acceptance that psychosocial or lifestyle factors may be inked to these symptoms Making the link: The doctor links the physical symptoms to an underlying psychosocial or lifestyle explanation, using physiological and/or temporal links that are compatible with the patient’s symptom beliefs Negotiation over further management. Various, including exploring patient’s views about treatment, promoting problem solving and coping strategies, appropriate use of relaxation, appropriate treatment for depression, and agreeing specific plans for follow-up.

13 Challenges Maintaining a positive therapeutic relationship Keeping continuity Pursuing a dual agenda Containing anxiety / referrals Time management Threat to self perception for doctor and patient Early preventive interventions Population perspective Media perspective Cultural variations 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

14 Implications For the practice – case discussion, attendance audits, true picture of all health care inputs For the practitioner – further training, appropriate use of time and resources, reflection and psychological insight For the service – collective approach, simple psychological therapies, liaison psychiatry For society – therapeutic support in early years, psychological health, self help For cross cultural situations Other th international Course, Slovenia EURACT

15 Medically Unexplained Symptoms Amanda Howe MA MEd MD FRCGP Professor of Primary Care University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K. 13 th international Course, Slovenia EURACT


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