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More evidence that illness name shapes attitudes, respect

  [ 4 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • September 15, 2012

Article [in Dutch]:
How do patients interpret terms for medically unexplained symptoms?
- Source: Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, 2012

By EM Kingma, et al

[Note: Even though the researchers didn’t include a really medical sounding option (such as myalgic encephalomyelitis) in comparing attitudes toward names for ME/CFS, they still found that the name, especially one suggesting a mental cause, strongly shapes attitudes.]

Objective: To investigate how primary care patients interpret the existing terminology used to describe medically unexplained symptoms; to contribute to the current academic discussion on unequivocal terminology.

Design: Descriptive cohort study.

Methods: We approached patients in the waiting rooms of two general medical practices in the city of Groningen and in the province of Drenthe.

Based on a fictitious case, the patients were asked to assign connotations to a number of possible diagnoses for medically unexplained tiredness.

The patients could choose from seven predetermined connotations. Among the diagnoses for medically unexplained tiredness were:

• 'Functional fatigue',

• 'Chronic fatigue syndrome',

• 'Psychosomatic tiredness',

• And 'medically unexplained tiredness'.

From the seven connotations, we labeled three connotations as being negative.

When patients gave at least one negative connotation to a possible diagnosis, the diagnosis was labeled as 'offensive'.

Results: A total of 184 patients participated in the study.

From the alternative diagnoses for medically unexplained tiredness, 'psychosomatic tiredness' had the most negative connotations: at least one negative connotation for 65 (35%) patients.

'Chronic fatigue syndrome' and 'functional fatigue' had the fewest negative connotations: at least one negative connotation for respectively 17 (9%) and 24 (13%) patients.

Conclusion: The terms 'chronic fatigue syndrome' and 'functional fatigue' were less offensive.

Our results could imply that terms for medically unexplained tiredness that refer less to a psychological basis are most acceptable for the patient.

Source: Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, 2012;156(37):A4541. PMID:22971428, by Kingma EM, Moddeljonge R, Rosmalen JG. Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen, Interdisciplinair Centrum Psychopathologie en Emotieregulatie (ICPE), Groningen, Netherlands.

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