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Psychology

MUS - Long Term Conditions Toolkit

The term “medically unexplained symptoms” is used to describe a set of persistent physical symptoms (e.g. chest pain, dizziness, back pain) for which, after extensive investigation, there is no obvious underlying cause or diagnosis.

For those with persistent physical symptoms, the journey from symptom development to clear understanding and evidence-based treatment can be an arduous one. In an attempt to exclude more concerning underlying conditions, GPs often undertake a range of medical assessments and interventions. While necessary, these can cause patients to develop:

  • unwanted psychological and physical side effects, adding to distress and disability
  • beliefs about the nature and seriousness of their condition,
  • Additional pain, fatigue and other symptoms due to pharmacological interventions.

In the absence of a clear cause or diagnosis despite persisting symptoms, patients can become increasingly distressed, while fear of what may be generating symptoms often leads to avoidance of daily activities. Further investigations may also place the patient at risk of harm, for instance, due to infection from exploratory operations, and exceeding safe doses of radiation.

As a patient's journey continues, ongoing and worsening distress and disability can further exacerbate symptoms, through a process involving:

  • physical deconditioning,
  • greater attention to symptoms,
  • Increasing sensitivity of normal physical processes in the body
  • the development of unhelpful beliefs about symptoms.

Recent attempts focus upon the development of explanatory models for persistent symptoms which combine physiological and psychological processes. These models aim to provide explanations which acknowledge patients' experiences, focusing upon physiological processes which can be contributed to and exacerbated by psychological mechanisms. This is the approach that NES Psychology have taken.

Clinical and health psychologists within NES Psychology have developed two resources to enable healthcare professionals working with people with persistent physical symptoms to:

  • explore the factors that may be influencing their patient's symptoms,
  • develop a shared understanding of their experiences,
  • encourage their patient to self-manage their symptoms.

MUS Long Term Conditions Toolkit - Resources

MUS Long Term Conditions Toolkit - Evaluation

MUS Long Term Conditions Toolkit - Additional Information

MUS Long Term Conditions Toolkit - Contact Details