Over-Reporting of Physical Symptoms Linked to Depression

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • People who suffer with depression frequently report physical illness and discomfort. Some of these symptoms relate to behaviors associated with changes in appetite and sleep, and some are more general in nature.


    Perception of symptoms is very influential when it comes to decisions about whether to self-medicate, take time away from work, or seek help from the doctor who may prescribe powerful medication based on the information a patient is describing.


    Previous research has always pointed to people high in neuroticism as being more likely to exaggerate physical symptoms. However, the latest research suggests that people with depression are far more likely to make errors when asked to recall symptoms.

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    Professor Jerry Suls, a psychologist at the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says his experiments suggest that depressed people recall experiences in a way that points to rumination and exaggeration of the worst aspects.


    An all female group of 109 volunteers were assessed as to their levels of neuroticism and depression. For a period of three weeks they were asked to keep a daily record of any symptoms relating to a list of 15 common physical complaints. These included symptoms of aches and pains, gastric upsets and upper respiratory problems. On day 22 the volunteers were asked to recall how often they had experienced each physical symptom. People with depression were more likely to overstate the frequency of their symptoms. One of the controls used in the study was to factor out physical symptoms commonly reported during depression, such as sleep and appetite changes.


    Suls suggests that if depression is known or suspected, doctors should ask the patient to keep a running record over a period of time so they may check the accuracy of the frequency and duration of symptoms, rather than relying on memory alone.


    Suls now wants to look at mixed groups of men and women and also the way depression influences symptom reporting in cases of chronic illness.



    University of Iowa (2009, October 28). Depression Can Lead to Inflated Reports of Physical Symptoms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 2, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091028162634.htm

Published On: November 23, 2009