How common are unexplained medical symptoms? In fact, one in twenty adult Canadians has a condition known as MUPS, according to new research.
What is MUPS? It’s short for medically unexplained physical symptoms, which along with the physical and psychological burdens of the illness, comes with a significant economic impact, according to a new report from Stats Canada, as 40 per cent of people with MUPS are not employed.
The report looks at data from the 2012 and 2014 Canadian Community Health Surveys (CCHS) which together involved over 75,000 Canadians aged 25 years or older responding to questions about their health status and use of the health care system.
Researchers found that in 2014, 5.5 per cent of adult Canadians —an estimated 1.3 million people— reported having conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity, all of which fall under the umbrella term, MUPS, and can present with any of a list of conditions or symptoms for which either no underlying cause can be found or there is a lack of agreement in the medical community about the condition’s pathology.
People with MUPS often have symptoms such as tiredness, pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, irritable bowel condition, memory loss and a range of other issues for which doctors can find no simple explanation.
Needless to say, the condition proves frustrating, as the symptoms are real yet getting proper treatment is difficult: 16 per cent of people with MUPS report having at least ten consultations with a family doctor in a one-year period and a full one-quarter of those with MUPS reported having an unmet healthcare need.
As people with MUPS often present with psychological conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety and depression, approaches to treatment have often involved pharmacological intervention, usually in the form of antidepressants, or psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
53 per cent of people with unexplained medical symptoms reported being without a job…
But the condition can prove debilitating, nonetheless, with 40 per cent of MUPS sufferers reporting being unemployed in comparison to a national average of 26 per cent —a number that was highest among those with multiple chemical sensitivity, 53 per cent of whom reported being without a job.
For those with MUPS who are employed, 18 per cent reported being absent from work due to a chronic health condition during the past three months in comparison to five per cent of Canadian workers without MUPS.
On the job and at home, MUPS sufferers are held back from doing the things they’d like to do, says the report, which found that 45 per cent of people with MUPS stated that they were “often” or “sometimes” restricted in the amount or kind of activity they do at work and 61 per cent said they were similarly restricted from doing activities at home.
The social and health care costs associated with MUPS are high. One 2005 study in the United States looked at the number of medical visits, tests, prescriptions and lost work-hours for people in the US with unexplained medical conditions and found these patients used twice the amount of outpatient and inpatient medical care and accounted for twice the annual medical costs in comparison to patients outside of the MUPS designation, totalling an estimated $256 billion a year in medical care costs.