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International Network for Subjective and Unexplained Health Complaints

The ISBM Committee for International Collaboration has established a network for the study of subjective and unexplained health complaints.

Unexplained symptoms, or subjective complaints without objective findings, or where the complaints do not seem to correspond to the objective findings, are a frequent reason for encounter with the general practitioner, and a frequent source of sickness compensation. Traditional medicine seems to have little to offer except a preference for new diagnoses and new labels. The complaints seem to remain the same, with muscle pain, unspecific gastrointestinal complaints, fatigue, dizziness, and slight mood changes as the most frequent. The prevalence is very high in the general population. Since there are few if any objective findings, the patients are often referred to psychiatric treatment. The condition affects the behavior and mood of the patient, but the psychiatric findings are also modest. Behavioral treatment programs may improve the condition, or, at least, the interpretation of the complaints.

This network intends to improve the communication between researchers in this field, and to facilitate collaboration. One important aspect is the comparison of these common complaints across nations and cultures, and to identify differences in attributions and treatments.

The collaboration will also identify effective treatments in controlled studies, and identify the epidemiology and health costs involved.

A standardized scoring system for subjective health complaints is now used in Brazil, New Zealand, Norway, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand. Attempts are under way to use the same system in Hungary, Africa, and for an indigenous Mongian tribe in the Philippines.

The ISBM Committee for International Collaboration established the network for the study of subjective and unexplained health complaints, by accept by the Executive Committee in August, 2001. Official launching of the network was at the International Conference of the International Society for Behavioral Medicine in Helsinki in August 2002.

The network was also presented at the Somatization Conference in Marburg in February 2002. A special volume on these conditions is published by the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology (2002, 43: 97-196).

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