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Medically unexplained physical symptoms

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Medically unexplained physical symptoms or MUPS is a term used in health care to describe a situation where an individual suffers from multiple physical symptoms for which the physician or other healthcare provider can find no physical cause. Up to 30% of all primary care consultations are patients with medically unexplained symptoms [1]. The term is commonly used to refer to Gulf War illness but also refers to other symptom based conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple chemical sensitivity. [2]

History and usage

The term medically unexplained physical symptoms was first used in 1987 by D.I. Melville.[3]

MUPS is not synonymous with somatization disorder or psychosomatic illness where the cause or perception of symptoms is mental in origin. Instead, MUPS refers to the clinical situation where the cause of the symptoms cannot be determined, but might include somatic, physical or environmental causes.

However, several definitions of both somatization and MUPS exist, and the usage of both terms is not consistent in medical literature and practice. MUPS is sometimes used interchangeably with both somatization and functional somatic symptoms. [4]

Contested causation

The lack of etiology diagnosis in MUPS cases can lead to conflict between patient and health-care provider over the diagnosis and treatment of MUPS. This conflict can occur in the public arena and may involve media controversy, advocacy groups, scientific and political debate and even legal proceedings [5].

Diagnosis of MUPS is seldom a satisfactory situation for the patient, as many patients feel this implies it is "all in their head." This can lead to an adversarial doctor-patient relationship[5], which can develop into an iatrogenic neurosis, thus complicating the situation.


A randomized controlled trial found improvement using multi-faceted, collaborative care.[6]


  1. Explaining Medically Unexplained Symptoms Laurence J Kirmayer, MD, The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, October 2004
  2. Population and Need-Based Prevention of Unexplained Physical Symptoms in the Community Engel, et al, U.S.Army.
  3. Descriptive clinical research and medically unexplained physical symptoms. Melville, D.I., Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1987;31(3):359-65.
  4. Somatization, heartsink patients, or functional somatic symptoms? Resendal, et al, Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, 2005; 23: 3-10
  5. 5.0 5.1 Caring for Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms after Toxic Environmental Exposures: Effects of Contested Causation Engel, et al. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 110, Nu. S4, August 2002.
  6. Smith RC, Lyles JS, Gardiner JC, et al (2006). Primary care clinicians treat patients with medically unexplained symptoms: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of general internal medicine : official journal of the Society for Research and Education in Primary Care Internal Medicine 21 (7): 671-7.

See also

External links


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