Doctors Give Hope to Patients With Long Histories of Unexplained Symptoms

Published: August 22, 2006
People with a long history of medically unexplained symptoms — aches, pains, fatigue, dizziness and other complaints for which doctors can find no physical cause — might finally find relief. Two new studies by researchers who specialize in the baffling condition called somatization syndrome, estimated to affect up to 3 percent of adults, suggest that the quest for a physical explanation may take on a destructive life of its own. Instead, those with the syndrome should focus on practical strategies to regain normal function and relieve symptoms, the researchers say.

One study, by German scientists, sought to explain why the doctors’ reassurances were generally ineffective with such patients. The researchers played taped comments by a doctor about a hypothetical patient for two groups of participants, people who had the syndrome and people who did not. Those with somatization syndrome were three times as likely to believe incorrectly that in the course of the comments the doctor had said the symptom had a worrisome physical cause.

The findings, in the August issue of the online journal Public Library of Science Medicine, offer at least a partial explanation for why patients often go from doctor to doctor and take test after test in a fruitless search for answers: repeated reassurances are simply not being understood.
A second study, by New Jersey researchers, provides the first published evidence of an effective clinical treatment. The study, in the July 24 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, found that patients benefited from 10 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically organized to help relieve their stress and increase emotional awareness and to get them to become more socially active and think differently about their symptoms.
“For patients who have these symptoms, their lives are about going to doctors, being physically incapacitated and worrying about it,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Lesley A. Allen, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
“They stop their dance classes and don’t go to work and don’t spend as much time throwing the ball with their kids,” Dr. Allen said. “Our treatment emphasizes changing their behaviors, trying to change the focus of their lives from worrying about their symptoms to re-engaging in activities they’ve been avoiding.”

The 84-patient study, compared the behavior therapy with the standard treatment. In that approach, primary care doctors avoid telling patients that the symptoms are “all in their head” or trying to dismiss them by sending them for unnecessary tests or to specialists. Rather, doctors examine the parts of the body of concern to the patient, convey that nothing appears to be seriously wrong, treat underlying anxiety or depression and schedule regular return visits.
Dr. Allen, whose book on the new treatment is due out in October, treats patients at the university’s facility for medically unexplained symptoms, one of the few such centers in the country.

Dr. Arthur J. Barsky, a psychiatrist at Harvard, called the findings very helpful. In 2004, Dr. Barsky published a study showing that cognitive behavior therapy was similarly helpful in treating hypochondriasis, a related disorder in which patients are sure they have a specific illness although no evidence can be found. “We’re starting to gather evidence that with these approaches, people really can cope better and feel better,” Dr. Barsky said.

Anger Is A Survival Level Defense Mechanism

Anger Is A Survival Level Defense Mechanism


Anger is part of a seemingly miraculous and exceedingly complex system that has allowed humans to survive for thousands of years.  Since anger is a survival level defense mechanism, it creates powerful and extensive physical changes in our bodies, each time we experience anger.  This is true even if we are not consciously aware that we are angry.  The anger response is a survival level response which triggers our bodies to prepare for escape, or battle.  This means that specific chemicals and hormones are released into our blood, the blood flow changes throughout the body and a specialized portion of our nervous system is engaged to ensure that the major muscle groups have more oxygen and are ready for serious physical exertion.  During the time that the body is experiencing the anger response, it is not able to relax, or heal, or rejuvenate.  This is just the biological truth of the way the human body operates.


The partner to the anger response is the “Relaxation Response”.  This is the pattern of “shutting-down” that happens once the physical threat has passed.  During the relaxation response, the body shifts the blood flow and engages an entirely different set of neurological and hormonal processes which are designed to help the body recuperate and restore its normal functioning.  This may involve sleep or it may simply involve relaxation but it includes a period of calm and rest from the intense physical activity that was needed to escape or fight for survival.


It is important to remember that the only health reason for anger is to protect a person from serious physical harm or death.  Any time you experience anger and your physical survival is not being threatened, you are needlessly putting your body into a position in which it cannot fight infection, recuperate from stress, disease or physical injury, or eliminate toxins that have been introduced into your system.


Sadly the nature of our thought process and the culture we have created puts most of us in the position where we are frequently angry, either consciously or sub-consciously.  The result is that we have come to accept frequent anger and frustration as part of our daily lives.  This is literally killing us! 


Perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to improve your health, and stop interfering with your body’s ability to heal itself and fight disease, is to monitor your feelings of anger and frustration and find a way to change them to feelings of gratitude and acceptance.  Some of us are so stuck in the pattern of anger and frustration that we will not be able to simply stop.  If your physical-emotional response pattern is too strong to respond to your logic, try using a technique like The Emotional Freedom Technique, (EFT).  This is a simple and effective way to give yourself an acupressure treatment for your emotions.  The manual is available free on the internet at  It is simple, powerful and effective!


Let go of your anger and frustration and give your body permission to heal itself and restore your health!