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Keywords:

  • Medically unexplained symptoms;
  • Multilevel path analysis;
  • Heart rate;
  • PEP;
  • Respiration;
  • RSA

Abstract

A non-clinical group high on heterogeneous medically unexplained symptoms (MUS; n=97) was compared with healthy controls (n=66) on the within-subject relationships between physiological measures using multilevel path analysis. Momentary experienced somatic complaints, mood (tension and depression), cardiac autonomic activity (inter-beat intervals, pre-ejection period (PEP), and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)) and respiration (rate and partial pressure of CO2 at the end of a normal expiration) were monitored for 24 h using electronic diary and ambulatory devices. Relationships between measures were controlled for diurnal variation and individual means. Only subtle group differences were found in the diurnal rhythm and in the within-subject relationships between physiological measures. For participants high on MUS, within-subject changes in bodily symptoms were related to changes in mood, but only marginally to the physiological measures. Results of the current path analysis confirm the subordinate role of cardiac autonomic and respiratory parameters in MUS.