Unexplained Physical Symptoms

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MindEd provides free mental health e-learning for anyone who works or volunteers with children, teenagers or young people. The MindEd programme includes free online CAMHS training, counselling courses and mental health resources for teachers and health professionals.

This session covers common physical symptoms and how they relate to psychological problems and emotional disorders in children. General management principles will be provided for use by both non-medical and medical practitioners.

  • Physical symptoms are common in children and usually not caused, or explained, by a medical condition.
  • Physical symptoms can be part of an emotional disorder, for example, the heart going faster, over-breathing and nausea are linked to anxiety.
  • Unexplained medical symptoms affect about one in ten children and refer to when symptoms not due to a medical disorder become distressing, severe and frequent and stop the child fully functioning.
  • Children with unexplained recurring medical symptoms often have emotional problems requiring attention.
  • Whilst the problem can be brought about by a medical problem, stresses in the child's life that he/she does not know how to deal with effectively play an important part in keeping the symptoms going.
  • It is important to take the child's symptoms seriously and investigate the symptoms medically but not to carry out too many medical investigations.
  • GPs and paediatricians are key to diagnosis and initial management. Mental health specialists can help for problems that do not improve and where there are also emotional disorders.

Access the full MindEd session here.
Content provided by MindEd. Author: Elena Garralda Hualda. Published: March 2014. Review: March 2017.

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Document ID:
29132 (v2)
Last Checked:
09 February 2016
Next Review:
08 February 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.