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      Standardization of a screening instrument (PHQ-15) for somatization syndromes in the general population

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          The PHQ-15 is widely used as an open access screening instrument for somatization syndromes in different health care settings, thus far, normative data from the general population are not available. The objectives of the study were to generate normative data and to further investigate the construct validity of the PHQ-15 in the general population.


          Nationally representative face-to face household surveys were conducted in Germany between 2003 and 2008 (n=5,031). The survey questionnaires included, the 15-item somatization module from the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-15), the 9-item depression module (PHQ-9), the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS), the SF-12 for the measurement of health related quality of life, and demographic characteristics.


          Normative data for the PHQ-15 were generated for both genders and different age levels including 5031 subjects (53.6% female) with a mean age (SD) of 48.9 (18.1) years. Somatization syndromes occured in 9.3% of the general population. Women had significantly higher mean (SD) scores compared with men [4.3 (4.1) vs. 3.4 (4.0)]. Intercorrelations with somatization were highest with depression, followed by the physical component summary scale of health related quality of life.


          The normative data provide a framework for the interpretation and comparisons of somatization syndromes with other populations. Evidence supports reliability and validity of the PHQ-15 as a measure of somatization syndromes in the general population.

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          Most cited references 26

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          The PHQ-15: validity of a new measure for evaluating the severity of somatic symptoms.

          Somatization is prevalent in primary care and is associated with substantial functional impairment and healthcare utilization. However, instruments for identifying and monitoring somatic symptoms are few in number and not widely used. Therefore, we examined the validity of a brief measure of the severity of somatic symptoms. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) is a self-administered version of the PRIME-MD diagnostic instrument for common mental disorders. The PHQ-15 comprises 15 somatic symptoms from the PHQ, each symptom scored from 0 ("not bothered at all") to 2 ("bothered a lot"). The PHQ-15 was administered to 6000 patients in eight general internal medicine and family practice clinics and seven obstetrics-gynecology clinics. Outcomes included functional status as assessed by the 20-item Short-Form General Health Survey (SF-20), self-reported sick days and clinic visits, and symptom-related difficulty. As PHQ-15 somatic symptom severity increased, there was a substantial stepwise decrement in functional status on all six SF-20 subscales. Also, symptom-related difficulty, sick days, and healthcare utilization increased. PHQ-15 scores of 5, 10, 15, represented cutoff points for low, medium, and high somatic symptom severity, respectively. Somatic and depressive symptom severity had differential effects on outcomes. Results were similar in the primary care and obstetrics-gynecology samples. The PHQ-15 is a brief, self-administered questionnaire that may be useful in screening for somatization and in monitoring somatic symptom severity in clinical practice and research.
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            Efficacy of treatment for somatoform disorders: a review of randomized controlled trials.

             Kurt Kroenke (2007)
            To review the evidence from randomized clinical trials (RCTs) that have focused on the treatment of patients with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4(th) Edition (DSM-IV) somatoform disorders. Although somatoform disorders are among the most common mental disorders presenting in the general medical setting, the strength of evidence for specific treatments has not been well synthesized. MEDLINE search of articles published in English from 1966 to 2006, using the following search terms: randomized clinical trial, somatoform disorders, somatization disorder, undifferentiated somatoform disorder, hypochrondriasis, conversion disorder, pain disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder. A total of 34 RCTs involving 3922 patients were included. Two thirds of the studies involved somatization disorder (n = 4 studies) and lower threshold variants, such as abridged somatization disorder (n = 9) and medically unexplained symptoms (n = 10). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was effective in most studies (11 of 13), as were antidepressants in a small number (4 of 5) of studies. RCTs examining a variety of other treatments showed benefit in half (8 of 16) of the studies, the most consistent evidence existing for a consultation letter to the primary care physician. Effective treatments have been established for all somatoform disorders except conversion disorder (1 of 3 studies showing benefit) and pain disorder (no studies reported). CBT is the best established treatment for a variety of somatoform disorders, with some benefit also demonstrated for a consultation letter to the primary care physician. Preliminary but not yet conclusive evidence exists for antidepressants.
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              Depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders: vague or distinct categories in primary care? Results from a large cross-sectional study.

              Depression, anxiety, and somatization are the most frequently observed mental disorders in primary health care. Our main objective was to draw on the often neglected general practitioners' (GPs) perspective to investigate what characterizes these three common mental diagnoses with regard to creating more suitable categories in the DSM-V and ICD-11. We collected independent data from 1751 primary care patients (participation rate=77%) and their 32 treating GPs in Germany. Patients filled out validated patient self-report measures for depression (PHQ-9), somatic symptom severity (PHQ-15), and illness anxiety (Whiteley-7), and questions regarding coping and attribution of illness. GPs' clinical diagnoses and associated features were assessed. Patients diagnosed by their GPs with depression, anxiety, and/or somatoform disorders were significantly older, less educated, and more often female than the reference group not diagnosed with a mental disorder. They had visited the GP more often, had a longer duration of symptoms, and were more often under social or financial stress. Among the mental disorders diagnosed by the GPs, depression (OR=4.4; 95% CI=2.6 to 7.5) and comorbidity of somatoform, depressive, and anxiety disorders (OR=9.5; 95% CI=4.6 to 19.4) were associated with the largest degrees of impairment compared to the reference group. Patients diagnosed as having a somatoform/functional disorder only had mildly elevated impairment on all dimensions (OR=2.0; 95% CI=1.4 to 2.7). Similar results were found for the physicians' attribution of psychosocial factors for cause and maintenance of the disease, difficult patient-doctor relationship, and self-assessed mental disorder. In order to make the DSM-V and ICD-11 more suitable for primary care, we propose providing appropriate diagnostic categories for (1) the many mild forms of mental syndromes typically seen in primary care; and (2) the severe forms of comorbidity between somatoform, depressive, and/or anxiety disorder, e.g., with a dimensional approach.

                Author and article information

                BMC Psychiatry
                BMC Psychiatry
                BMC Psychiatry
                BioMed Central
                20 March 2013
                : 13
                : 91
                [1 ]Institute and Policlinic for Medical Psychology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistr. 52, W26, Hamburg, 20246, Germany
                [2 ]Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, University of Leipzig, Ph.-Rosenthal-Str. 55, Leipzig, 04103, Germany
                Copyright ©2013 Kocalevent et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Research Article

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry

                somatization, standardized data, phq-15, general population


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