Depressed Patients Suffer from Somatoform Pain at Higher Rates than Non-depressed Patients

July 16, 2009

Patients who are depressed suffer from somatoform pain more often than non-depressed patients, according to new research from scientists at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

Patients who are depressed suffer from somatoform pain more often than non-depressed patients, according to new research from scientists at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany.

Dirk Frieser, a psychologist at the Institute of Psychology at the university, and fellow psychologist Stephanie Körber found that patients who were depressed or had been in the past 12 months experienced somatoform pain in different areas of the body at a significantly higher rate than non-depressed patients. Pain was somatoform in 73% of cases and was only fully explained medically in 27% of cases. The results of this study indicate that depressed patients suffering from unexplainable pain are more common than previously thought, according to the researchers, which may show that psychiatrists who treat depressed patients need to be more aware of this condition.

As a result of this study, Frieser said, physicians who treat patients complaining of multiple pain symptoms that cannot be explained clinically may actually be dealing with individuals who are “very probably suffering from a depressive disorder requiring treatment.”

Frieser and Körber examined 308 patients who attended two practices of general practitioners in Mainz. They were asked to describe their state of health and pain symptoms, as well as “their anxieties with regard to illness, how they react when ill, what social support they receive, and what psychological stress they experience.” Analysis of patients’ answers revealed that up to 80% of pain symptoms reported in general practice settings are somatoform. An additional finding of the study revealed that women were both depressed and suffering from somatoform pain “much more frequently” than men.

"The results indicate that there is a significantly higher occurrence of somatoform pain in various body regions in patients with existing depression or who suffered depression in the previous 12 months than in patients without depression,” Frieser said.