Association Between Patient Review of Systems Score and Somatization

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Abstract

Importance

Somatization is a condition in which psychological distress is manifested by medically unexplained symptoms, and it is prevalent in all medical specialties, including otolaryngology. Recognition of somatization can be difficult, and there are limited methods available.

Objectives

To determine whether patients with somatization respond differently to the review of systems (ROS) portion of the patient interview and whether the ROS can be used to identify patients with somatization.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A retrospective review of medical records of 2120 consecutive consultations of English- or Spanish-speaking patients aged 18 to 89 years who presented to the otolaryngology clinic from January 1, 2014, to November 10, 2015, was conducted to compare how the ROS of patients with chief complaints associated with somatization (group B: globus sensation, dizziness, and tinnitus) differs from those with symptoms more often associated with objective findings (group A: nasal obstruction, hoarseness, and hearing loss); a total of 605 patients were included. Objective clinical findings after physical examination and related testing were reviewed and classified as either significant, marginal, or absent. Current or past psychiatric comorbidities were also examined.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Number of affirmative responses on a standardized, 69-point ROS was recorded as a ROS score (ROSS). Objective clinical findings, symptoms, and psychiatric comorbidities were recorded.

Results

Of the 605 patients included in the analysis, 346 (57.2%) were women, and the mean (SD) age was 51.6 (15.7) years. Among patients with medically unexplained symptoms (median, 11; range, 0-39), the ROSS was higher compared with those with objective clinical findings (median, 6; range, 0-31) (median difference, 4; 95% CI, 3 to 6). Group A (hoarseness, nasal obstruction, and hearing loss: median ROSS, 6, range, 0-41) exhibited lower ROSS than group B (dizziness, globus sensation, and tinnitus: median ROSS, 9; range, 0-39) (median difference, −2; 95% CI −3 to −1). Psychiatric comorbidity (median, 10; range, 0-41) was associated with higher ROSS than patients without psychiatric comorbidity (median, 5.5; range, 0 to 36) (median difference, 5; 95% CI, 3 to 6).

Conclusions and Relevance

The manner in which patients respond to a standardized ROS differs in those with medically unexplained symptoms and in those with psychiatric disease. The ROS offers information beyond the actual systems review, and may be useful in the identification of somatization.

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