NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Environmental" Ills Often Psychosomatic

October 16, 2001

Most patients with symptoms they attribute to environmental pollutants actually have psychological problems, according to a recent German study. Studies in Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom have reached the same conclusion.

Illnesses attributed to pollution of air, water or food are rising in developed countries. Symptoms linked to such causes often include headaches, sleeplessness, breathing difficulties, inability to concentrate and skin problems.

  • A team of environmental scientists, dermatologists, allergists and psychiatrists evaluated 50 patients who reported symptoms they attributed to environmental causes, such as pollution.
  • The researchers found that 60 percent of study participants who displayed symptoms of such "environmental" illness had mental disorders.
  • In many cases, patients had a fixation on environmental dangers and spent a large amount of time reading news stories or watching TV programs on the subject.

According to experts, "environmental" health problems occur almost exclusively in western industrial nations. Although the environmental pollution often represents a larger problem in poorer countries, this does not translate into a high incidence of "environmental" health problems.

Determining the psychosomatic nature of symptoms can help physicians prescribe effective treatments, such as relaxation training and social skills training. For patients with depression or phobias, medicines such as antidepressants or antipsychotics were successful in treating the "environmental" symptoms.

Source: "German Study Shows 'Environmental' Ills Often Psychosomatic," Reuters Health, October 11, 2001.


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