Functional neurological disorders are conceptualized as patterns of neurological symptoms that cannot be attributed to a clear organic etiology. The study by Wilkins et al. in this issue of Psychosomatic Medicine reveals that 8.2% of patients who were initially presented with suspected stroke were later diagnosed with functional disorders, i.e., “functional stroke mimics.” However, the percentage of functional stroke mimics varied substantially with patients' nationality, age, and sex. In this editorial comment, we discuss potential reasons for the intercultural variation of the frequency of functional stroke mimics.
The current models of symptom perception, in which symptom perception is guided by top-down processes of the central nervous system, are helpful in explaining the intercultural variation of functional symptoms. According to these models, cultural beliefs, previous illnesses, and stressful life situations influence patients' expectations, sensory input, and finally the perception of somatic symptoms. In addition, differences in insurance status, health literacy, and health care experiences are strong predictors of health care use in patients who experience somatic symptoms.
This article provides a conceptual model that integrates sociocultural factors with symptom perception and health care use relevant to the different rates of functional somatic symptoms in emergency departments across nationalities. Considering these factors, future attempts to improve care for patients with functional disorders should enhance access to effective treatment for all patient groups, empower patients through education and early participation in the treatment process, and foster interdisciplinary collaboration among specialists from somatic and mental health disciplines.