Somatic complaints in adolescence: Prevalence patterns across gender and age


  • Anita Vulić-Prtorić Department of Psychology, University of Zadar


somatic symptoms, age and gender differences, cluster pattern shape


The aim of the study was to determine the age- and gender-specific prevalence, at symptom level and cluster level, of somatic symptoms in a sample of 1512 participants (52.7% females) aged 10 to 25 years old.Somatic complaints were measured with the Psychosomatic Symptoms Scale (PSS), a 35-item scale that inquires about 35 somatic symptoms and sensations in the last 3 months. PSS shows acceptable internal consistency (Cronbach alpha=.89), and factor analysis resulted in 5 meaningful factors: Pain-Musculoskeletal, Pseudoneurological, Gastrointestinal, Cardiovascular-Respiratory and Dermatological. The most commonly reported symptoms were upper respiratory symptoms, lack of energy and fatigue, headaches and back pain. Gender differences were found in 22 of the 35 symptoms, with males having only one symptom (pain in the joints) more prevalent than females.Four age-specific prevalence patterns were established: increasing, decreasing, curvilinear and stable shape. Most of the somatic symptoms show stable shape across different age groups. At the cluster level, females achieved significantly higher scores on all five somatic symptom clusters. With regard to age-specific pattern shape, mostly stable and curvilinear patterns are observed in the various clusters.The article emphasizes the necessity of taking a multilevel view of somatic symptoms.