Worldwide, patients with common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have a tendency to present first to primary care exhibiting idiopathic physical symptoms. Typically, these symptoms consist of pain and other physical complaints that remain medically unexplained. While in the past, traditional psychopathology emphasized the relevance of somatic presentations for disorders, such as depression, in the last few decades, the “somatic component” has been neglected in the assessment and treatment of psychiatric patients. Medical specialties have come up with a variety of “fashionable” labels to characterize these patients and the new psychiatric nomenclatures, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, attempt to classify these patients into a separate “somatoform disorders” category. These efforts fall short, and revisionists are asking altogether for the elimination of “somatoform disorders” from future nomenclatures.
This review emphasizes the importance of idiopathic physical symptoms to the clinical phenomenology of many psychiatric disorders, offers suggestions to the diagnostic conundrum, and provides some hints for the proper assessment and management of patients with these common syndromes.