Ills Often Psychosomatic
By Ned Stafford, Reuters Health
FRANKFURT (Reuters Health)
- As many as 60% of patients with symptoms that they attribute
to environmental pollutants are in fact suffering from psychological
problems, according to a recently released German study.
Lead researcher Dr. Hermann Ebel, director of the Hospital for
Psychiatry and Psychotherapy/Psychosomatic Medicine in Ludwigsburg,
notes that cases of illnesses attributed to pollution in air,
water or food are rising. Symptoms linked to such causes often
include headaches, sleeplessness, breathing difficulties, inability
to concentrate and skin problems.
Ebel and a team of environmental scientists, dermatologists,
allergists and psychiatrists evaluated 50 patients who reported
symptoms they attributed to environmental causes, such as pollution.
In many cases, patients were found to have a fixation on environmental
dangers and spent a large amount of time reading news stories
or watching TV programs on the subject, the group told a meeting
of the German Society of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Mental
Ebel told Reuters Health that 60% of study participants who displayed
symptoms of such ``environmental'' illnesses were instead suffering
from mental problems.
``This is really not a surprise,'' he said. ``Other studies,
in Sweden, the US and UK, have reached the same conclusion.''
Professor Max Schmauss, president of the DGPPN, noted in a statement
that such ``environmental'' health problems ``occur almost exclusively
in western industrial nations. In poorer countries they do not
play a role, although the environmental pollution often represents
a still larger problem here. That points on the fact that this
phenomenon is bound by certain cultural and social prerequisites.''
Nevertheless, he added, such patients genuinely suffer from their
complaints and are often disabled by their ailments.
Ebel said that determining the psychosomatic nature of symptoms
can help physicians prescribe effective treatments, such as relaxation
training and social skills training.
For patients with depression or phobias, Ebel said, medicines
such as antidepressants or antipsychotics were successful in treating
The German physician conceded that of those 60% whose illnesses
appear to be psychological, a small fraction might be suffering
from a disease that cannot be detected by medical tools now available.
``It is possible that in 10 to 15 years, some illnesses we now
think are psychosomatic (will be found to be) from organic causes,''
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