Background: The term ‘Medically Unexplained Symptoms’ (MUS) is used by health professionals and researchers to refer to persistent bodily complaints, including pain and discomfort.
Aims: This study explores the views held by a lay sample on the clinical terminology used to describe ‘MUS’, to ascertain reasons for particular preferences and whether preferences differ between individuals who experience more somatic symptoms.
Design and methods: A sample (n = 844) of healthy adults completed an online survey, which included a questionnaire measuring somatic symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-15 (PHQ-15)) and a question about their preferences for terminology used to describe MUS.
Results: Of 844 participants, 698 offered their preferences for terminology. The most popular terms were ‘Persistent Physical Symptoms’ (20%) and ‘Functional Symptoms’ (17%). ‘MUS’ (15%), ‘Body Distress Disorder’ (13%) and ‘Complex Physical Symptoms’ (5%) were less popular. And 24% indicated no preference, but high PHQ-15 scorers were more likely to express preferences than low scorers.
Conclusion: Persistent Physical Symptoms and Functional Symptoms are more acceptable to this sample of healthy adults than the more commonly used term ‘MUS’.