Somatic Symptoms in the German General Population from 1975 to 2013

Manfred E Beutel, Eva M Klein, Michaela Henning, Antonia M Werner, Juliane Burghardt, Ana Nanette Tibubos, Gabriele Schmutzer, Elmar Brähler

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

22 Citations (Scopus)


The study determines how burden and patterns of somatic symptom reporting developed over almost four decades in the general German population. Additionally, we studied how socio-demographic factors affected the degree of somatic symptoms. Population-based samples representative for West Germany between 18 and 60 years of age were analyzed comparing three cross-sectional samples of 1975 (N = 1601), 1994 (N = 1416), and 2013 (N = 1290) by conducting a three-way analysis of variance (sex, age, survey). The prevalence rates for somatic symptoms in men and women were lower in the more recent surveys; this affected women most strongly. Exhaustion and musculoskeletal complaints remained leading symptoms (affecting 25%, resp. 11% of the men and 30%, resp. 19% of the women). There was a slight increase in women's prevalence of exhaustion from 1994 (15%) to 2013 (19%). As determined by stepwise multiple regression, somatic symptoms were consistently associated with female sex and higher age. In the 2013 survey, education became an additional negative predictor of somatic symptom load, while the impact of age and sex on somatic symptoms reporting decreased. Somatic symptoms remain a major burden in the general population. Findings are interpreted with regard to improved living and health care conditions, different cohort experiences, and more public health information.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1595
Pages (from-to)1595
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fatigue/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Germany/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medically Unexplained Symptoms
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases/epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


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