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Treatment Strategy Helps Ease Unexplained Pain

Drugs, behavior counseling can help, experts say

FRIDAY, July 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A team of U.S. doctors has devised a "treatment plan" for patients who have unexplained symptoms of illness.

Medically unexplained symptoms affect millions of people in the United States and can be frustrating for both patient and doctor. Common symptoms include back pain, headache, fatigue, and musculoskeletal, nervous system and gastrointestinal problems.

"Medically unexplained symptoms are common and costly," Dr. Robert Smith, professor at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, said in a prepared statement. "A patient's symptoms just won't go away, so a doctor orders more tests or gives more medicine or even operates on the patient. Pretty soon, the patient will actually develop an organic disease as a complication of the drugs or surgery," Smith said.

His team developed a new treatment plan for unexplained symptoms, comprised of a combination of behavior modification and drug treatment, along with improved patient-doctor communication.

The plan was tested in nearly 100 patients. About half the patients showed marked improvement. The findings were published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"What we did was use what they've learned in psychiatry and the pain clinics, which is cognitive behavioral treatment and pharmacological treatment," Smith said. "We simply adapted it for use by primary care providers. But the centerpiece of all this is the doctor-patient relationship."

People with medically unexplained symptoms need to understand that they are not going to be "cured," he said.

"We can help take the edge off," Smith said. "The patient may still have some pain, but it doesn't have to interfere with his or her life to the extent that it has in the past."

More information

There's more on pain management at the American Pain Foundation.

SOURCE: Michigan State University, news release, July 12, 2006
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