Persistent somatic symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, have been referred to as somatization. Somatization is commonly associated with histories of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although previous research has demonstrated that PTSD can predict somatic problems, there has been no examination of this at the level of PTSD symptom clusters and multidimensional assessment of somatic symptoms. We examined the association between the three International Classification of Disease (11th Edition) PTSD symptom clusters (reexperiencing in the here and now, avoidance, and sense of threat), measured in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic as the stressor, and somatic symptoms while statistically adjusting for confounding variables.
Participants were a nationally representative sample of 1041 adults from the general population of the Republic of Ireland. Physical health problems across the domains of pain, gastrointestinal, cardiopulmonary, and fatigue were assessed by the Patient Health Questionnaire, and PTSD symptoms were assessed using the International Trauma Questionnaire.
Sense of threat was associated with the presence of pain (β = 0.254), fatigue (β = 0.332), gastrointestinal (β = 0.234), and cardiovascular symptoms (β = 0.239). Avoidance was associated with pain (β = 0.347). Reexperiencing was not associated with any physical health variable.
In the context of COVID-19, the sense of threat symptoms in PTSD is most strongly related to somatic problems. Findings suggest that interventions addressing sense of threat symptoms might provide relief from somatization.