Models of unexplained symptoms associated with occupational and environmental exposures

Anne Spurgeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Citations (Scopus)


Unexplained illnesses characterized by nonspecific, multisystem complaints are often attributed to occupational or environmental chemical exposures. This raises difficulties for the regulatory authorities, who are frequently unable to agree on the existence, nature, or source of such illnesses. It is proposed that many of these difficulties derive from an adherence to a traditional medical model of disease and that the application of a biopsychosocial approach would be more effective for both research and individual case management. A number of models derived from the field of health psychology are discussed in terms of their application to occupational and environmental syndromes. A specific example is described that relates to the health problems experienced by sheep farmers in the United Kingdom who are exposed to organophosphate-based pesticides. The source of their complaints and the responses of the health professionals and the regulatory authorities are discussed within the context of a biopsychosocial approach that focuses on illness rather than on organic disease as the unit of study and explores the interaction between the various physical and psychosocial variables involved. It is proposed that this approach, which is already well established in the fields of human and social sciences, should be adopted more readily by those concerned with occupational and environmental epidemiology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-605
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002


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