Printer Friendly

Uso de los servicios de salud de pacientes mexicanos con sintomas fisicos medicamente inexplicables.

Health care utilization of mexican patients with medically unexplained physical symptoms


Patients with medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUS) are those in which no organic pathology is found that explains the origin of their symptoms (1). Its prevalence in primary care ranges between 1.1% and 15.3%2-4; in secondary level care it is 52%, with a greater frequency in certain services (5). In Mexico, there are no data on its prevalence.

This variation in prevalence depends on differences in the population, on more or less stringent criteria for diagnosis, and the different names this disease has received, such as "somatization", "functional presentation", among others (6).

Due to the difficulty in conclusively identifying patients with MUS, diagnostic criteria have been developed, such as that of Smith and Dwamena (7), the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in Primary Care (DSM-IV-PC) (1), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) (8), the criteria by Steven Reid et al. (9), and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-15) (10).

The characteristics of patients with MUS may be related to the increase in the use of health services reported in the literature (2,11), since these patients have a reduced quality of life, and high disability rates (12). This impacts the cost of services provided, and causes a loss of productivity (13).

These patients are commonly seen by primary care physicians. With these physicians they generate a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge because their symptoms are not consistent with common clinical conditions, and for physicians with little experience, their diagnosis involves further laboratory and other tests. In addition, many patients have a strong emotional component to the disease, recurrent symptoms, and poor treatment adherence, problems that cause over utilization of health services.

Because of this, the aim of this study is to determine the prevalence of MUS in an outpatient setting and analyze the characteristics and use of health services between a group of patients with MUS and a group of patients with other ailments (not MUS).

Material and Methods

This was a cross-sectional, retrospective and multicenter study of a primary care outpatient population. The study population consisted of patients over 18 years of age cared for by 39 family physicians from 30 primary care public institution outpatient clinics located in 11 states of Mexico.

The data collection instrument of the study consists of a section of sociodemographics, a screening for MUS (PHQ-15), and characteristics of care. This vas applied during the period of September to December 2014. The physician randomly selected one patient per day. The aim of the study was explained and the patient then provided written informed consent. The patient answered the self-assessment sociodemographic data section and the screening section in the waiting room; after entering the doctor's office, the physician would fill out the diagnostic criteria for MUS. At the end of the working day, the doctor would complete the section on characteristics of care, using the patient's electronic record. The completed instrument was sent to the researcher via e-mail.

Diagnosis of MUS

The diagnostic criteria for detecting somatic symptom were three or more unspecific symptoms according to the PHQ-15 (screening section), which are the first 15 questions of the PRIME-MD (Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders), which correspond to the most commonly reported physical symptoms in primary care. This questionnaire has good consistency and moderate reliability (Cronbach's alpha 0.80 and a test-retest reliability of 0.60, respectively) (10), but due to its low sensitivity and specificity compared to clinical diagnosis (15), and for the aims of this research, we also considered the diagnostic criteria of Reid et al., (kappa index 0.76-0.88), to be diagnosed as MUS. These criteria are having evidence of investigation of nonspecific symptoms, negative test results, and having a psychosocial factor that suggests the presence of a symptom or diagnosis of a medically unexplained syndrome (fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.) (9).

Patients who consulted for symptoms different from those listed on the PHQ-15 or with unspecific symptoms identified on the PHQ-15 or who did not meet the diagnostic criteria of Reid et al. were considered the non-MUS group. Patients who required emergency consultation and terminally ill patients were excluded.

Sociodemographic data

Were collected and the type of family of the patient was categorized according to composition and history of the use of health care services in the last 6 months, such as number of consultations, accumulated days of sick leave, drugs prescribed, consultations with specialists, laboratory and other tests (plain film or contrasted x-rays).and referral to secondary level care if further studies were needed.

The instrument was piloted with 20 patients to assess its consistency and to validate the estimation of sample size.

The lack of consensus on the use of a single instrument for diagnosis of MUS is a bias in determining the prevalence, and consequently the comparison between the different sample sizes. However, as mentioned before, we preferred strict criteria for diagnosis. Despite the standardization of procedures, it is possible that there was some variability because it is a multicenter study. The sample was estimated to be 1,054 with a power of 0.90 to detect an effect size (d) of 0.20 (d= m1-[m.sup.2]/s) by using Student t test with a significance level of 0.05 when the alternative hypothesis is bilateral.

Percentages and frequencies were determined for categorical variables and measures of central tendency and dispersion for continuous variables. The Chi-square test was used with a p <0.05 for statistical significance in the case of categorical variables. After determining a normal distribution, Student t test or the Mann-Whitney test was used. The data was processed with SPSS v.20. Lost data were scarce and no special intervention was used for this data.

The study was approved by the Ethics and Research Committee of a university with registration number R-2013-785-046.


This study included 1,050 patients (seven were eliminated because of incomplete data). In 7.0% (73) MUS was diagnosed. The sociodemographic characteristics of the patients are shown in Table 1 and the use of health services in Table 2.

Forty percent (418) patients had three or more symptoms on the screening list (PHQ-15); the most frequent symptom was back pain in 236 (28.6%), followed by arm and leg pain in 136 (16.5%). In those with the diagnostic criteria of Reid et al., 7.0% (73), gastrointestinal system symptoms predominated in 76.7% (56), and in descending order, musculoskeletal 16.4% (12) and nervous system 6.9% (5); therefore, this were considered the MUS group.

The characteristics of symptoms in patients from the MUS group were recurrent in 79.5% (58). The patient had consulted before for this same symptom in 93.2% (68) of cases. Some other characteristics according to the judgment of the treating physician are shown in Table 3.

With regard to comorbidity, the presence of chronic diseases, mainly chronic degenerative, was similar in both groups with 35.6% (345 patients without MUS and 26 with MUS).


In this study, the prevalence of patients with MUS was below the range mentioned in other publications (4); this may be because strict diagnostic criteria were used to define MUS. The wide variability of prevalence could be associated to different diagnostic criteria and the lack of a unique concept (6).

The number of references to secondary level care of patients with MUS was similar to that reported in several comparative studies (11,16). This could be related to uncertainty in their diagnosis and because their somatic complaints were not resolved by the primary care physician.

Gastroenterology consultation showed a higher rate of referred patients, as mentioned in other studies (17); this coincides with the most common symptoms found in patients who met the two diagnostic criteria used in this study (10,11).

The same could be said about overuse of imaging studies in this group, which coincides with that published by Reid et al. (11), and Kinderman et al. (18), which may be related to insistence in finding the origin of symptoms for the patients or the search for differential diagnoses of the disease by the physician, aspects that can definitely influence the cost of health care, although in this research, a direct cost estimation of services used was not performed. There are publications that report elevated health care costs (16), which increase even more if the impact on labor and productivity are considered (12).

A contradictory fact is that there were more accrued days of sick leave in patients without MUS, although this was not statistically significant.

There was a similar finding with respect to laboratory tests requested. Those showed a higher trend in patients with MUS without statistical significance. In fact, in a study of patients with MUS, it was found that 21.6% of patients required studies (3).

With regard to drug prescription, this was lower in patients with MUS. According to Salmon et al., patients without MUS usually request psychological support (19), or use effectively proven techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (20). Nevertheless, this could be because patients with MUS are referred to other levels of care to search for an explanation for their symptoms as mentioned before.

Although in Norway no statistical significance was reported between the number of consultations for persistent MUS and the total number of consultations during the month 3, in this research, there was a lower number of consultations in MUS patients (1.8 vs 2.9), a finding that could be related to the fact that the largest percentage of patients are individuals with chronic conditions who periodically attend to follow up medical appointments generating more consultations (21).

The MUS population in this study was similar to that reported in the literature. Most were women, 91.8% (67), which coincides with published reports (2,5), and most were married 60.3% (44), as has also been reported (13,22). Mean age was 50.6 years (SD 15.8) while in other research, the mean is 48 years (3).

Most patients were employed, 48.6% (35), with this coinciding with other reports (3,5,22), and with a higher level of education, similar to that reported in the literature (12,5). This could be related, in this research, to the fact that the study was performed in workers who have health care coverage.

In this study, most patients came from a nuclear family; however, a study of patients with MUS constantly referred to secondary care reported a tendency to live alone compared to controls, although most of the people in the sample were married or lived in common law marriage (2). Again, this disparity or similarity in the findings of this research with the literature should be viewed as a lack of clarity in defining these patients (23), and of diagnostic protocols (24).

The significance of the study is limited by the fact that there are no established diagnostic and screening criteria to identify patients with MUS. Finally, the use of health services and patient comorbidity was assessed in the clinical history from the last 6 months and therefore only represents a partial view of the impact on institutional outpatient care.

The strengths of this study reside on the fact that it was a multicentric study, conducted in various states of the Mexican republic by family physicians and that it represents the beginning of this line of research in Mexico.

We suggest reaching a consensus to establish diagnostic and care protocols for patients with MUPS. It is essential for the scientific community to reach an agreement about the best diagnostic tool for patients with MUS, in order to make treatment decisions and control unnecessary costs.


Patients with MUS cause a greater impact on some health services in institutional outpatient clinics, this could represent an increase in medical costs. Identification and effective treatment of this group of patients is paramount.

Article history:

Received: 18 September 2015

Revised: 18 May 2016

Accepted: 15 July 2016


We extend thanks to the medical group who worked in this study and to Sergio Lozano-Rodriguez, M.D. for his help in translating and editing the manuscript.

Funding: there was no funding.

All author are Members of the Mexican Network of Researchers in Family Medicine

Conflict of interest: the authors declare no conflict of interest


(1.) Pincus HA, Wise T, Michel BF. Manual diagnostico y estadistico de los trastornos mentales. Barcelona: Masson; 2004.

(2.) McGorm K, Burton C, Weller D, Murray G, Sharpe M. Patients repeatedly referred to secondary care with symptoms unexplained by organic disease: prevalence, characteristics and referral pattern. Fam Pract. 2010; 27:479-86.

(3.) Aamland A, Malterud K, Werner EL. Patients with persistent medically unexplained physical symptoms: a descriptive study from Norwegian general practice. BMC Fam Pract. 2014; 15:107.

(4.) Morris R, Lindson N, Coupland C, Dex G, Avery A. Estimating the prevalence of medically unexplained symptoms from primary care records. Public Heath. 2012; 126:846-54.

(5.) Nimnuan C, Hotopf M, Wessely S. Medically unexplained symptoms: an epidemiological study in seven specialties. J Psychosom Res. 2001; 51:361-7.

(6.) Granel A. Pacientes con sintomas somaticos no explicables. Evid Actual Pract Ambul. 2006; 9:176-80.

(7.) Smith RC, Dwamena FC. Classification and diagnosis of patients with medically unexplained symptoms. J Gen Intern Med. 2007; 22:685-91.

(8.) American Psychiatric Association . Manual Diagnostico y Estadistico de los Trastornos mentales DSM-5. 5ta Ed. Arligton VA: Editorial Medica Panamericana; 2014.

(9.) Reid S, Crayford T, Richards S, Nimnuan C, Hotopf M. Recognition of medically unexplained symptoms-do doctors agree. J Psychosom Res. 1999; 47:483-5.

(10.) van Ravesteijn H, Wittkampf K, Lucassen P. Detecting somatoform disorders in primary care with the PHQ-15. Ann Fam Med. 2009; 7:232-8.

(11.) Reid S, Wessely S, Crayford T, Hotopf M. Frequent attenders with medically unexplained symptoms: service use and costs in secondary care. Br J Psychiatry. 2002; 180:248-53.

(12.) Zonneveld LN, Sprangers MA, Kooiman CG, van't Spijker A, Busschbach JJ. Patients with unexplained physical symptoms have poorer quality of life and higher costs than other patient groups: a cross-sectional study on burden. BMC Health Serv Res. 2013; 13:520.

(13.) Bermingham SL, Cohen A, Hague J, Parsonage M. The cost of somatisation among the working-age population in England for the year 2008-2009. Ment Health Fam Med. 2010; 7:71-84.

(14.) Kroenke K, Spitzer RL, Williams JB. The PHQ-15: validity of a new measure for evaluating somatic symptom severity. Psychosom Med. 2002; 64:258-66.

(15.) van der Feltz-Cornelis CM.Hoedeman R.Keuter EJ.Swinkels JA Presentation of the Multidisciplinary Guideline Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms (MUS) and Somatoform Disorder in the Netherlands: disease management according to risk profiles. J Psychosom Res. 2012; 72:168-9.

(16.) Barsky AJ, Orav EJ, Bates DW Somatization increases medical utilization and costs independent of psychiatric and medical comorbidity. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005; 62:903-10.

(17.) Escobar JI, Cook B, Chen CN, Gara MA, Alegria M, Interian A, et al. Whether medically unexplained or not, three or more concurrent somatic symptoms predict psychopathology and services use in community populations. J Psychosom Res. 2010; 69:1-8.

(18.) Kiderman A, Ilan U, Gur I, Bdolah-Abram T, Brezis M. Unexplained complaints in primary care: evidence of action bias. J Fam Pract. 2013; 62:408-13.

(19.) Salmon P, Ring A, Dowrick CF, Humphris GM. What do general practice patients want when they present medically unexplained symptoms, and why do their doctors feel pressurized. J Psychosom Res. 2005; 59(4):255-60.

(20.) Kroenke K. Efficacy of treatment for somatoform disorders: a review of randomized controlled trials. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2007; 69:881-8.

(21.) Smith RC, Gardiner JC, Lyles JS, Johnson M, Rost KM, Luo Z, et al. Minor acute illness: a preliminary research report on the "worried well". J Fam Pract. 2002; 51(1):24-9.

(22.) Konnopka A, Kaufmann C, Konig HH. Association of costs with somatic symptom severity in patients with medically unexplained symptoms. J Psychosom Res. 2013; 75:370-5.

(23.) Olde Hartman T, Hassink-Franke L, Dowrick C. Medically unexplained symptoms in family medicine: defining a research agenda. Proceedings from WONCA 2007. Fam Pract. 2008; 25:266-71.

(24.) Kawas-Valle O. Trastornos de somatizacion en atencion primaria. Medicina Universitaria. 2011; 13:171-2.

Azucena Maribel Rodriguez Gonzalez [1], Jose Manuel Ramirez Aranda [2], Homero de los Santos Resendiz [3], Maria Yolanda Lara Duarte (4), Santiago Oscar Pazaran Zanella [5], Jafet Felipe Mendez Lopez [5], Issa Gil Alfaro [5], Felix Gilberto Islas Ruz (5), Gloria Navarrete Floriano [5], Edith Guillen Salomon [5], Obdulia Texon Fernandez [], Silvia Cruz Duarte (5), Juan Carlos Romo Salazar [5], Claudia Elsa Perez Ruiz [5], Sara de Jesus Lopez Salas [5] Lizbeth Benitez Amaya (5), and Javier Nahum Zapata Gallardo [5]

[1] Servicios de Salud de Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico,

[2] Hospital Universitario "Dr. Jose Eleuterio Gonzalez", Departamento de Medicina Familiar, Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Facultad de Medicina, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

[3] Colegio Mexicano de Medicina Familiar, Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico

[4] Facultad de Medicina de Tampico, Universidad Autonoma de Tamaulipas, Tamaulipas, Mexico

[5] Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico

Corresponding author:

Maribel Rodriguez Gonzalez . Coordinacion de Investigacion Operativa, Servicios de Salud en Nuevo Leon. Hermosillo 3363, 64460 Monterrey, N.L., Mexico. Phone: +52 81 4348 7527. E-mail: azucena.rodriguez@
Table 1. Demographic data of patients (n = 1,043)

Characteristics     Without MUS *   With MUS *
                        (n= 970)       (n= 73)
Female sex **         697 (71.9)     67 (91.8)
Married **            597 (61.7)     44 (60.3)
Bachelor's degree     444 (45.8)     50 (68.5)
  or greater **
Nuclear family **     599 (62.3)     61 (83.6)
Employed **           368 (38.2)     35 (48.6)
Urban area **         845 (87.4)     50 (68.5)
  ([double dagger])
Age, years,          52.7 (15.1)    50.6 (15.8)
  mean (SD)

* n(%), ** p <0.05; SD= standard deviation.

([double dagger])Population with more than 2,500 inhabitants
according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia

MUS: medically unexplained physical symptoms

Table 2. Use of health services in a family medicine practice in the
last 6 months.

Variable                 Without With MUS

                     MUS n = 970     n = 73    value *

Number of previous    2.9 (1.8)    1.8 (1.4)    0.000
  consultations in
  six months
Drugs prescribed      6.6 (6.3)    4.6 (5.2)    0.003
Days of sick leave    0.8 (3.9)    0.4 (1.8)    0.449
Laboratory studies    1.6 (1.8)    19 (1.5)     0.104
Clinical studies      0.5 (0.7)    1.1 (0.6)    0.000
Referrals to          0.6 (0.7)    0.8 (0.5)    0.003
  secondary care

MUS: medically unexplained physical symptoms
Data are shown as means [+ or -] standard deviation.

* P value= Mann Whitney U test

Table 3. Characteristics of MUS according to treating physician's
judgement (n = 73)

Characteristics          With MUS *

It was necessary to    Yes   71 (97.3)
  request laboratory   No     2 (2.7)
  studies and
  clinical studies
  during this
There is a logical     Yes   40 (54.8)
  correspondence       No    33 (45.2)
  between the
  symptoms and a
  defined clinical
The patient has a      Yes   11 (15.1)
  psychological        No    62 (84.9)

MUS: medically unexplained physical symptoms

* n(%)
COPYRIGHT 2016 Facultad de Salud-Universidad de Valle
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Original Article
Author:Rodriguez Gonzalez, Azucena Maribel; Ramirez Aranda, Jose Manuel; de los Santos Resendiz, Homero; La
Publication:Colombia Medica
Article Type:Ensayo
Date:Jul 1, 2016
Previous Article:Registro de Trauma de la Sociedad Panamericana de Trauma: un ano de experiencia en dos hospitales en el suroccidente colombiano.
Next Article:Niveles de vitamina D (25(OH)D) en pacientes con enfermedad renal cronica estadios 2 a 5.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters