Medically unexplained symptoms

Three doctors looking at an x-ray scan

What are medically unexplained symptoms?

Medically unexplained symptoms refer to symptoms that don’t have an obvious cause. People can have persistent physical complaints that medical diagnostic tests and tools can’t explain. There are many possible unexplained symptoms, including:

Prognosis

Unexplained symptoms may last for a few weeks or much longer. Usually, these uncomfortable physical feelings get better on their own and without a need for treatment. In some cases, however, symptoms might persist for a very long time and a determined diagnosis isn’t possible.

Treatment

In cases where patients develop anxiety, stress and depression as a result of not having a diagnosis, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy often help. This is also the case for patients whose anxiety, stress or depression is potentially at the root of their symptoms. Therapy can be used alongside prescribed anti-depressants if deemed appropriate.

Which type of specialist treats medically unexplained symptoms?

If symptoms persist and become worrisome, you’ll be referred to a relevant medical specialist.

If your mental health could be causing your symptoms, or if you develop anxiety, stress and depression as a result of not understanding why you’re having physical complaints, you might be referred to have therapy with a psychologist. If you require anti-depressants, you will be referred to a psychiatrist.

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