Functional Symptoms and Somatoform Disorders in Children and Adolescents: The Role of Standardised Measures in Assessment

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Abstract

Functional or unexplained medical symptoms (physical symptoms that are not adequately explained by organic factors and where a major role for psychological factors is assumed) are common amongst children in the general population but can also be an expression of somatisation and somatoform disorders. Co-morbid psychopathology is common. We describe measures mostly used in research into problems related to somatisation in children and adolescents that may be helpful to clinical researchers. Some address the nature and severity of physical symptoms, others document illness attitudes, beliefs and functional impairment, and a third group assesses emotional symptoms. Questionnaires can be helpful for clinicians in quantifying (i) the nature and severity of somatic symptoms and associated functional impairment, (ii) contributory health attitudes and illness beliefs and (iii) co-morbid or primary anxiety and depressive disorders. Together with pain and activity diaries and careful documentation of school attendance, these measures may also be helpful in monitoring treatment response.

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