Background. Somatoform disorders such as neurasthenia and chronic fatigue syndrome are characterized by a combination of prolonged mental and physical fatigue. This study aimed to investigate the heritability of somatic distress and determine whether this dimension is aetiologically distinct from measures of depression and anxiety. Method. Measures of anxiety, depression, phobic anxiety, somatic distress and sleep difficulty were administered in a self-report questionnaire to a community-based sample of 3469 Australian twin individuals aged 18 to 28 years. Factor analysis using a Promax rotation, produced four factors: depression, phobic anxiety, somatic distress and sleep disturbance. Multivariate and univariate genetic analyses of the raw categorical data scores for depression, phobic anxiety and depression were then analysed in Mx1.47. Results. Univariate genetic analysis revealed that an additive genetic and non-shared environmental (AE) model best explained individual differences in depression and phobic anxiety scores, for male and female twins alike, but could not resolve whether additive genes or shared environment were responsible for significant familial aggregation in somatic distress. However, multivariate genetic analysis showed that an additive genetic and non-shared environment (AE) model best explained the covariation between the three factors. Furthermore, 33% of the genetic variance in somatic distress was due to specific gene action unrelated to depression or phobic anxiety. In addition, 74% of the individual environmental influence on somatic distress was also unrelated to depression or phobic anxiety. Conclusion. These results support previous findings that somatic symptoms are relatively aetiologically distinct both genetically and environmentally from symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1051-1061
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000


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