Journal of Psychosomatic Research: In Press: Is there a better term than “Medically unexplained symptoms”?


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The Elephant in the Room Series Three:

Journal of Psychosomatic Research In Press: Is there a better term than “Medically unexplained symptoms”?

WordPress Shortlink for this posting:

24 October 2009


An In Press version of the Editorial: Is there a better term than “Medically unexplained symptoms”?, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, is already available online (purchase required). The Editorial needs to be read in conjunction with a white paper from:

The European Association for Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry and Psychosomatics (EACLPP)

A white paper of the EACLPP Medically Unexplained Symptoms study group

Patients with medically unexplained symptoms and somatisation – a challenge for European health care systems  ( )

The White Paper can be downloaded from the EACLPP site here:

The document is approx 76 pages long, including tables and charts.  I had considerable difficulty opening this document, in May, due to a corrupted table and I note that the file on the EACLPP site is still glitchy. A copy of the document was therefore obtained directly from the EACLPP and can be opened by clicking the link below.  Note that there may have been revisions to the document as supplied on 19 May, but it will serve as reference for those who might also experience difficulties opening the file from the EACLPP website. If you would like a copy of the file sent to you as a Word.doc, email ME agenda with “EACLPP MUS DOC” in the subject line and I will forward a copy [600 KB].  The tables and charts are slow to load.

Draft – prepared by: Peter Henningsen and Francis Creed January 2009

EACLPP Working group on MUS version 16 Jan 2009

The current issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research is Volume 67, Issue 5, Pages A1-A4, 367-466 (November 2009)

Journal of Psychosomatic Research

In Press

Is there a better term than “Medically unexplained symptoms”?



References and further reading may be available for this article. To view references and further reading you must purchase this article.


Francis Creed a, Elspeth Guthrie a, Per Fink b, Peter Henningsen c, Winfried Rief d, Michael Sharpe e and Peter White f

a University of Manchester, Manchester, UK 
b University Hospital Aarhus, Denmark
c Technical University, Munich Germany
d University of Marburg, Germany
e University of Edinburgh, UK
f Queen Mary University of London, UK

Received 24 August 2009; revised 24 August 2009; accepted 7 September 2009. Available online 17 October 2009.

Article Outline


“Medically unexplained symptoms” – one advantage, but many reasons to discontinue use of the term

Criteria to judge the value of alternative terms for “medically unexplained symptoms”

Terms suggested as alternatives for “medically unexplained symptoms”

Implications for treatment

Implications for DSM-V and ICD-11




Francis Creed is Co-Editor of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

Francis Creed, Per Fink, Peter Henningsen and Winfried Rief were all members of the international CISSD Project, (Principal Administrators: Action for M.E.; Co-ordinator: Dr Richard Sykes. Dr Sykes is now engaged in the “London MUPSS Project” in association with the Institute of Psychiatry).

Michael Sharpe was UK Chair for the CISSD Project.

Michael Sharpe and Francis Creed have been members of the APA’s DSM-V Somatic Distress Disorders Work Group since 2007.

Francis Creed (UK), Peter Henningsen (Germany) and Per Fink (Denmark) are the co-ordinators of European EACLPP MUS Work Group.

Francis Creed and Peter Henningsen were the authors of “A white paper of the EACLPP Medically Unexplained Symptoms study group – Patients with medically unexplained symptoms and somatisation – a challenge for European health care systems”, January 2009.

Draft white paper here:

Per Fink is a member of the Danish Working Group on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, established in August 2008 and expected to complete its work in spring 2009.


An Editorial: The proposed diagnosis of somatic symptom disorders in DSM-V to replace somatoform disorders in DSM-IV – a preliminary report by DSM-V Work Group members, Joel Dimsdale and Francis Creed on behalf of the DSM-V Workgroup on Somatic Symptom Disorders was published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

Full text of the June 2009 DSM-V SSD Work Group preliminary report can be accessed here:

See section: Psychological factor affecting general medical condition 

“…The conceptual framework that we propose will allow a diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder in addition to a general medical condition, whether the latter is a well-recognized organic disease or a functional somatic syndrome such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome…”

No updates or reports have been published on the APA’s website by DSM-V Task Force or Work Groups since brief reports issued in April 2009. DSM-V is anticipated to be finalised in May 2012 with field trials expected to start this October. No detailed Timeline for DSM-V is available.

Previous DSM Task Force chairs, Robert L Spitzer and Allen Frances, have been two of the most vocal critics of the current Task Force’s oversight of the revision process. Read their joint letter to the APA Board of Trustees here:  Letter to APA Board of Trustees July 09. In Dr Frances Responds to Dr Carpenter: A Sharp Difference of Opinion, Psychiatric Times, 9 July, Frances called for the posting of all the suggested wordings for DSM-V criteria sets well before considering field trials.


Javier Escobar, co-author of the Special Report: Unexplained Physical Symptoms: What’s a Psychiatrist to Do? Psychiatric Times, Aug 2008, was also a member of the Work Group for the “Conceptual Issues in Somatoform and Similar Disorders (CISSD) Project.

Javier Escobar is a member of the DSM-V Task Force, serves as a Task Force liaison to the Somatic Symptom Disorders Work Group and said to work closely with this work group.

01 August 2008
Psychiatric Times. Vol. 25 No. 9
Special Report

Unexplained Physical Symptoms What’s a Psychiatrist to Do?

Humberto Marin, MD and Javier I. Escobar, MD

According to Escobar and Marin:

“The list of somatoform disorders kept expanding with the addition of vague categories, such as “undifferentiated somatoform disorder” or “somatoform disorder NOS [not otherwise specified],” which, unfortunately, are the most common diagnoses within the somatoform genre. These terms failed to transcend specialty boundaries. Perhaps as a corollary of turf issues, general medicine and medical specialties started carving these syndromes with their own tools. The resulting list of “medicalized,” specialty-driven labels that continues to expand includes fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndome, multiple chemical sensitivity, and many others (Table 1).

Table 1

Functional somatic syndromes

Irritable bowel syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Multiple chemical sensitivity
Nonspecific chest pain
Premenstrual disorder
Non-ulcer dyspepsia
Repetitive strain injury
Tension headache
Temporomandibular joint disorder
Atypical facial pain
Hyperventilation syndrome
Globus syndrome
Sick building syndrome
Chronic pelvic pain
Chronic whiplash syndrome
Chronic Lyme disease
Silicone breast implant effects
Candidiasis hypersensivity
Food allergy
Gulf War syndrome
Mitral valve prolapse
Chronic low back pain
Interstitial cystitis
Systemic yeast infection
Total allergy syndrome”

These labels fall under the general category of functional somatic syndromes and seem more acceptable to patients because they may be perceived as less stigmatizing than psychiatric ones. However, using DSM criteria, virtually all these functional syndromes would fall into the somatoform disorders category given their phenomenology, unknown physical causes, absence of reliable markers, and the frequent coexistence of somatic and psychiatric symptoms.”

DSM-V and ICD-11 have committed as far as possible “to facilitate the achievement of the highest possible extent of uniformity and harmonization between ICD-11 mental and behavioural disorders and DSM-V disorders and their diagnostic criteria” with the objective that “the WHO and APA should make all attempts to ensure that in their core versions, the category names, glossary descriptions and criteria are identical for ICD and DSM.”

The International Advisory Group for the Revision of ICD-10 Mental and Behavioural Disorders most recent meeting took place on 28 – 29 September. It is anticipated that a Summary Report of the meeting will be available in late November/December.

For detailed information on the proposed structure of ICD-11, the Content Model and operation of iCAT, the collaborative authoring platform through which the WHO will be revising ICD-10, please scrutinise key documents on the ICD-11 Revision Google site:

For information around the DSM and ICD revision processes see DSM-V and ICD-11 Directory page: