Somatoform disorders in Caucasian and Chinese Americans

L. K.George Hsu, Marshal F. Folstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Somatization, broadly defined as the presentation of one or more medically unexplained somatic symptoms, refers both to the presentation of somatic symptoms in diagnosable psychiatric disorders such as major depression or anxiety as well as to the presentation of such symptoms in somatoform disorders. Although no comparative data exist, somatization is considered by many clinical investigators to be more common among Chinese than Caucasian patients, but it is unclear if this occurs because somatoform disorders are more prevalent among the Chinese or because Chinese patients with major depression or anxiety more often present with somatic complaints. We examined 85 consecutive Chinese American and 85 consecutive Caucasian American patients referred for psychiatric consultation and found the following: a) True somatization was significantly more common among Chinese American patients referred for psychiatric consultation; b) The somatoform symptom profiles of the two cohorts were different: Chinese American somatizers complained predominantly of cardiopulmonary and vestibular symptoms, whereas their Caucasian counterparts had symptoms that corresponded well with the categories listed in DSM-IV; c) In both cohorts of somatizers, a concurrent psychiatric disorder, most commonly major depression, was almost always present; and d) Among the Chinese American somatizers, pseudoneurological symptoms occurred most commonly in the form of abnormal sensations, whereas abnormal motor functions were more common among Caucasian Americans. Implications of the findings with respect to pathogenesis, treatment, and classification of somatization are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)382-387
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nervous and Mental Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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