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Medically Unexplained Symptoms


... food allergy, PMS, and IBS. IBS: linked to NUD, CFS, hyperventilation, FM, tension headache, atypical facial pain, non-cardiac CP, chronic pelvic pain. and PMS. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Medically Unexplained Symptoms

Medically Unexplained Symptoms
  • Mark Feldman, MD
  • July 5, 2006

Case 1
  • 36 year old woman presented with atypical facial
    pain admitted to Teaching Service. Physical
    examination was normal.
  • Past history depression, anxiety and Mollarets
  • Meds Trazodone, venlafaxine, chlorazepate
  • Started on gabapentin (Neurontin) with no pain
  • Switched to carbamazepine (Tegretol) with no pain
  • A few weeks later, she developed a severe
    generalized pruritic maculopapular rash,
    granulomatous hepatitis, and eosinophilia
    (35), treated with prednisone and hydroxyzine.
    She then developed CNS vasculitis with multiple
    strokes (carbamazepine hypersensitivity syndrome
    CHS with CNS vasculitis).

Case 2
  • 53 year old woman referred for chronic upper and
    lower abdominal pain and constipation.
  • Past history of anxiety, depression, stress,
    perineal pain, fibro-myalgia, nonulcer dyspepsia,
    and hysterectomy/oophorectomy.
  • Recent flare of pain led to laparoscopic
    appendectomy, with no pain relief (and no
    abnormality of the appendix on path exam).
  • Common bile duct was slightly dilated (10 mm) on
    ultrasound history of cholecystectomy 20 years
    ago for upper abdominal pain. GI was consulted
    and an ERCP was attempted, complicated by acute
    pancreatitis requiring hospitalization.
  • Physical exam and lab studies at this time were
  • Abdominal pain and constipation improved with the
    5-HT4 agonist tegaserod (Zelnorm). Her dyspepsia
    did not improve and was treated with a PPI with
    minimal relief. She is being seen by at least 3
    gastroenterologists currently.

Case 3
  • 22 year old woman (daughter of a physician)
    referred because of flushing, abdominal cramps,
    and loose stools after eating. She is unable to
    attend school or work due to her GI symptoms.
  • Negative or normal colonoscopy X2 stool fat
    urine 5-HIAA, sprue panel, EGD, CT, octreoscan,
    EUS, etc.
  • Past medical history of obesity, PCOS with
    normal ovarian sonogram, asthma, multiple food
    sensitivities/allergies, chronic headaches,
    myalgia and arthralgia compatible with FM,
    multiple knee surgeries, possible Sjögrens
    syndrome. Taking 23 medications from numerous
    specialists such as an allergist/pulmonologist
    and endocrinologist, including prednisone and
  • Exam (with parents present) morbidly obese and
    Cushingoid with buffalo hump and hundreds of red
    and purple striae, but otherwise well-appearing.
    Exam was otherwise normal and laboratory studies
    were all normal.

Summary of Cases
Demographics Symptoms Complication
Case 1 36 year old woman Atypical facial pain CHS, strokes
Case 2 53 year old woman Upper/lower abdominal pain ERCP-induced pancreatitis
Case 3 23 year old woman Abdominal pain, flushing, loose stools Cushings syndrome
Working definitions
  • Symptom a patients subjective experience of a
    change in his/her body
  • Disease an objective, observable abnormality in
    the body
  • When we can find no objective change to explain
    the patients subjective experience, we term the
    symptoms medically unexplained or functional.

Synonyms for todays topic
  • Medically unexplained symptoms
  • Somatization
  • Somatoform disorder
  • Functional Somatic Syndromes

Functional somatic syndromes, classified by
  • Gastroenterology
  • Gynecology
  • Rheumatology
  • Cardiology
  • Infectious Disease
  • Neurology
  • Dentistry
  • ENT
  • Allergy
  • IBS, nonulcer dyspepsia
  • PMS, chronic pelvic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Atypical or non-cardiac CP
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
  • Tension headache
  • TMJ syndrome / atypical facial pain
  • Globus syndrome
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity

Adapted from Wessely S, Nimnuan C, Sharpe M.
Lancet 354 936-9, 1999
Characteristics of the various Functional Somatic
  • They are extremely common.
  • They are frequently persistent (i.e., chronic).
  • Conventional medical therapy is fairly
  • They are associated with
  • Considerable distress (IBS gt IBD in inpatients)
  • Considerable disability (CFS gt CHF in
  • Unnecessary expenditures of medical revenues
  • Unnecessary exposure to medical risks
  • Case 1. Anticonvulsant drugs
  • Case 2. ERCP
  • Case 3. Glucocorticoids

Frequency of Functional Somatic Syndromes
  • Primary care consultations (UK)
  • New referral as medical outpatients (UK) 35
  • Medical outpatient visits (Denmark)

Functional Somatic Syndromes One or Many ?
  • Potential Splitters
  • Specialists
  • Specialty Societies
  • Support/Help Groups
  • local chapters
  • Internet sites
  • Researchers
  • Potential Lumpers
  • Primary care providers
  • Epidemiologists
  • Researchers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Enlightened specialists

A case for Lumping
  • Argument 1
  • There is a great deal of overlap in case
    definitions of specific syndromes.
  • Of 12 specific syndromes analyzed by Wessely et
    al, the definition of the syndrome included
  • Bloating/feeling of abdominal distention in 8
  • Headache in 8
  • Fatigue in 6
  • Abdominal pain features in 6

Fibromylagia (Arthritis Foundation)
  • Pain (tender points)
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog (fibro fog)
  • Migraine headaches
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, alternating diarrhea
    and constipation (IBS)
  • TMJ disorder
  • Skin color changes
  • Tingling limbs
  • Restless legs syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CDC)
  • Primary Symptoms (n8)
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Post-exertion malaise
  • after physical or mental exertion
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Joint pain
  • Persistent muscle pain
  • New headaches
  • Tender cervical/axillary lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Other common symptoms
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea
  • Nausea, bloating
  • Chills and night sweats
  • Brain fog
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath/chronic cough
  • Multiple food/chemical allergies/sensitivities
  • Psychological problems
  • Depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability
  • Jaw (facial) pain
  • Weight loss or gain

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome. Common
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed mood
  • Memory loss
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Heat intolerance
  • Arthralgia
  • Numerous GI symptoms
  • Respiratory/mucosal irritation

Magill and Suruda. American Family Physician,
Sept. 1, 1996.
A case for Lumping
  • Argument 2
  • Patients with one functional syndrome frequently
    meet diagnostic criteria for other syndromes (if
    queried!). Wessely et al
  • CFS linked to/overlaps with FM, tension
    headache, multiple chemical sensitivity, food
    allergy, PMS, and IBS.
  • IBS linked to NUD, CFS, hyperventilation, FM,
    tension headache, atypical facial pain,
    non-cardiac CP, chronic pelvic pain. and PMS.

A case for Lumping
  • Argument 3
  • Patients with different symptoms (functional
    syndromes) share non-symptom features
  • Gender female predominance of non-gynecologic
    FSSs, such as IBS, CFS, TMJ dysfunction, atypical
    facial pain, globus syndrome, tension headaches.
  • Association of FFSs with emotional disorders
    correlated with current and past anxiety and
    depression. Examples IBS, multiple chemical
    sensitivity, CFS
  • Pathophysiology Little known, but FSSs may
    share a common pathophysiology (altered
    functioning of the CNS) rather than be caused by
    disorders in specific organ systems
  • IBS Colon ? CNS
  • NUD/Bloating Stomach ? CNS
  • FM and CFS Muscle ? CNS
  • Facial pain TMJ, etc. ? CNS

? Role of 5-HT neurons
A case for Lumping
  • Argument 3, contd
  • History of childhood mistreatment and/or abuse,
    especially sexual abuse pelvic pain, PMS, IBS,
    tension headache, FM, CFS
  • Difficulties in the doctor-patient relationship
  • Unsatisfactory for the doctor
  • Unsatisfactory for the patient
  • headache, non-cardiac chest pain, FM, CFS

A case for Lumping
  • Argument 4
  • All functional syndromes respond to
    similar therapies.
  • General approaches
  • Take patients complaints seriously.
  • Explain the physiology of the symptoms.
  • Limit investigations.
  • Emphasize rehabilitation at the expense of cure.
  • Antidepressant drugs (tricyclic, SSRI off
  • Accepted for PMS, atypical facial pain,
    non-cardiac chest pain
  • Role in FM, CFS, and IBS less clear, but evolving
  • Psychological therapies (e.g., cognitive
    behavioral therapy)
  • Effective in CFS, PMS, IBS, and in nearly all
    pain syndromes

Rome III. Psychosocial aspects of the functional
GI disorders. Levy et al. Gastroenterology 130
1447-58, 2006.
  • The committee reached consensus in finding
    considerable evidence supporting the association
    between psychological distress, childhood trauma
    and recent environmental stress, and several of
    the FGIDs but noted that this association is not
    specific to FGIDs.
  • there is now increasing evidence that a number
    of psychological treatments and antidepressants
    are helpful in reducing symptoms and other
    consequences of the FGIDs in children and adults.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Syndrome
  • Several theories have been advanced to explain
    the cause of MCS, including allergy, toxic
    effects and neurobiologic sensitization. There is
    insufficient scientific evidence to confirm a
    relationship between any of these possible causes
    and symptoms.
  • Patients with MCS have high rates of depression,
    anxiety and somatoform disorders, but it is
    unclear if a causal relationship or merely an
    association exists between MCS and psychiatric
    problems. Physicians should compassionately
    evaluate and care for patients who have this
    distressing condition, while avoiding the use of
    unproven, expensive or potentially harmful tests
    and treatments. The first goal of management is
    to establish an effective physician-patient
    relationship. The patient's efforts to return to
    work and to a normal social life should be
    encouraged and supported.

Magill and Suruda. Amer Fam Physician, September,
Functional Somatic Syndromes New or Old Concept ?
  • Psychosomatic Syndromes
  • Psychosomatic Affections
  • Multiple Visceral Neuroses
  • Syndrome Shift

  • For sub-specialists
  • Elicit symptoms outside of your area of specialty
    (look at the big picture)
  • Ask about childhood/sexual abuse
  • Minimize excessive testing if symptoms fit a
    functional disorder
  • Consider more general and safer therapies
  • For primary care physicians
  • Look at the company your patients symptoms keep
  • Minimize referrals to sub-specialists if patient
    has evidence of multiple functional somatic
  • Seek co-existing anxiety and/or depression and
    treat accordingly
  • Ask about childhood/sexual abuse
  • Be willing to consider off-label antidepressants
    for symptoms
  • Be prepared to refer difficult/refractory cases
    to a mental health professional