Somatic symptoms in children and adolescents referred for emotional and behavioral disorders

G. Masi, L. Favilla, S. Millepiedi, M. Mucci, J. R. Rundell, C. C. Engel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Medically unexplained physical symptoms are frequently endorsed by children and adolescents in both clinical and community samples. The aim of this exploratory study is to examine the prevalence of somatic symptoms in a sample of 162 Italian children and adolescents consecutively referred to a Division of Child Neurology and Psychiatry from emotional and/or behavioral disorders. The role of age, gender, and psychiatric status was considered as a variable. Each patient received a DSM-IV assessment, including a diagnostic structured interview (DICA-R). The sample was divided according to gender (96 males, 66 females), age (70 children younger and 92 adolescents older than 12 years), and psychiatric diagnosis (Anxiety, Depression, Depression/Anxiety, Other). The presence of medically unexplained somatic symptoms was based on the responses to the DICA-R. Somatic complaints were reported in 69.2% of the patients. Headache was the most frequent somatic symptom (50.6%). Younger children showed higher rates of abdominal complaints than adolescents. No gender differences in frequency of somatic complaints were reported. Subjects with anxiety and/or depression reported significantly higher rates of somatic complaints, namely headache, than subjects with other mental disorders. No differences in frequency of somatic symptoms were evident between patients with anxiety, depression, and comorbid anxiety-depression. Our data suggest that an unexplained somatic symptom can be often considered as indicative of a neglected anxiety and/or depressive disorder. A collaboration between primary care physicians, pediatricians, and child psychiatrists may promote early diagnoses and timely treatments and prevent negative social and scholastic consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-149
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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