Medically Unexplained Symptoms

Everyone experiences uncomfortable physical symptoms at different times throughout their lives. Most of the time, these symptoms get better on their own. However, in some cases they persist and, although thorough physical and medical examination and/or diagnostic tests have been performed, they do not appear to have any medical cause.

These symptoms are known as ‘medically unexplained symptoms’ because they are not due to a physical illness in the body and can usually last for more than a few weeks. The lack of a medical cause does not mean that these symptoms are fake or imaginary. They are real and could affect one’s ability to function properly in his/her daily life. This can be confusing, frustrating and challenging to cope with.

However, they can be explained but we need to widen our thinking beyond the physical explanations and consider how perhaps our mind and emotional experiences can impact our body. We often perceive our minds and bodies as separate but in fact we know from research that they are closely connected and affect each other.

Indeed, daily thoughts and feelings affect our body in different ways. For example:

  • We blush when we are embarrassed
  • We feel ‘butterflies in the stomach’ when we are worried or frightened
  • We feel our throat tighten as ‘a lump in the throat’ when we get upset
  • We feel ‘hot-headed’ when we are angry

Thoughts and feelings can also make us physically ill. For example:

  • Low mood or high levels of stress make pain worse
  • Long-standing issues with anxiety and/or stress could contribute to high blood pressure or a heart attack.

Therefore, getting help with any associated psychological issues might often relieve any medically unexplained physical symptoms.

According to NHS data, medically unexplained symptoms account for up to 45% of all GP appointments and 50% of all new visits to hospitals in the UK.

Common medically unexplained symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Blurred vision
  • Bowel issues such as diarrhea and constipation.
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Feeling unusually tired and weak
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle, joint, or back pains
  • Numbness, tremors or tingling of the limbs
  • Paralysis
  • Stomach issues such as feeling bloated and pain