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  Functional Syndromes

This is supplemental information for this topic marked by the little computer icon in the book, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the MindBodySpirit Connection, by William B. Salt II, M.D. and Neil F Neimark, M.D. (Columbus: Parkview Publishing, 2002). Click here to learn more about the book and/or to purchase it.

Medically unexplained functional symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bowel pattern disturbances (diarrhea, constipation, or both), and widespread muscular pain and fatigue affect most people from time to time. However, when the symptoms become recurrent and chronic, many people consider themselves to be ill with them and consult with doctors. Collections of these medically unexplained symptoms are diagnosed with functional syndromes, such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. The medical term "functional" means that the cause of symptoms cannot be explained by currently available diagnostic studies, including blood tests, x-rays, endoscopy (esophagogastroduodenoscopy and colonoscopy), biopsy, or surgical findings. Instead, there is an altered physiological function (the way the body works).

Doctors Wayne Katon, Mark Sullivan, and Ed Walker, from the University of Washington Medical School, stress that functional medical syndromes without a clearly defined cause are responsible for a high percentage of visits to specialists (Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:917-925). Click here to read an abstract of this medical journal article. There is substantial functional impairment, distress, and costs associated with medical symptoms without identified pathology, which lead to the diagnosis of functional syndromes, such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia.

There is considerable scientific evidence that functional symptoms and syndromes commonly overlap and that they share common causes (Aaron LA, Buchwald D. A review of the evidence for overlap among unexplained clinical conditions. Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:868-881; Wessely S, Nimnuan C, Sharpe M. Functional somatic syndromes: one or many? Lancet 1999; 354: 936-939). Examples of functional syndromes include irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, temporomandibular disorder, tension headache, and interstitial cystitis.

  • Aaron LA, Buchwald D. A review of the evidence for overlap among unexplained clinical conditions. Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:868-881.

  • Wessely S, Nimnuan C, Sharpe M. Functional somatic syndromes: one or many? Lancet 1999; 354: 936-39. Click here to read the medical article.

AAn entire issue of an important medical journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine, has recently been devoted to medically unexplained (functional) symptoms and syndromes (Annals of Internal Medicine, 1 May 2001, volume 134, supplement number 9).

You can review an important medical journal article that calls for a new approach to functional symptoms and syndromes.

 



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