Narratives of Somatizing and Nonsomatizing Patients in a Primary Care Setting
AbstractSomatizing patients, who comprise approximately 20 percent of the primary care population, often present physicians with recurrent but confusing combinations of symptoms without organic explanations. Illness narratives presented during initial medical encounters with primary care physicians were examined qualitatively to determine if the narrative structure, chronological development of symptoms and temporal frame differed between somatizing and non-somatizing patients. Following a structured interview to identify somatization tendency and co-morbidities of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, 116 patients’ encounters with primary care physicians were video-recorded and transcribed. Somatizers demonstrated a narrative structure that was similar to that of non-somatizing patients, but they used a thematic rather than a chronological development of symptoms and they did not convey a clear time frame. Somatizing patients with a co-morbid psychological condition focused on concrete physical sensations, were unable to provide contextual history or chronological organization, and did not develop a temporal frame. The narratives of somatizing and non-somatizing patients differed sufficiently to warrant further research for use as a clinical aid in the diagnosis of somatization.