The Danish consultant and professor, Per Fink, PhD, DMSc, has been invited to Columbia University in New York to share his knowledge on functional disorders at the conference "Healing 'unexplainable' pain: Advances in Multidisciplinary Integrated Psychosomatic Care".
Functional disorders is an umbrella term for a group of illnesses characterized by being in the tension field between psyche and physique. The patients suffer from physical symptoms such as fatigue, pain, excessive exhaustion after physical exertion, concentration difficulties and others. Previously, medical science has had difficulties understanding and acknowledging the mechanisms behind functional disorders, and the patients have been left to their own devices without treatment offers.
Recent research shows that there are multiple causes for functional disorders such as biological, psychological, social and environmental, but there is still a lot we do not know, and it is therefore of great value when researchers from around the world meet and share their knowledge.
"At Aarhus University Hospital, we are quite advanced within the research area of diagnostics and treatment of these disorders," Per Fink explains. He has done research in functional disorders for more than 30 years and received several international awards.
"But our research can not stand alone. For instance, researchers at Columbia University are in the forefront of examining if any biomarkers can be found that could be helpful in making more accurate diagnoses and give us a better understanding of the mechanisms triggering the functional disorders. This is exciting and in line with our own research on biological mechanisms' influence on functional disorders with a focus on the importance of infections, the immune system, energy exchange, genes and more. Moreover, we have a line of research in which the brain and the nervous system's importance for functional disorders is examined".
In Denmark, some individuals are against researchers' deviation from the classic distinction between physical and mental illness while trying to examine illness and treatment in a broad and multifactorial or bio-psycho-social approach. This resistance is an international phenomenon and in The States, some of the opponents have formed groups calling themselves 'patient activists'. A group of activists has taken initiative to a petition against Per Fink's active participation in the conference in New York. However, the organizers of the Columbia University conference have resisted this attempt to restrict the academic free discussion.
"Some patients with functional disorders have been met with great indifference in the health care system," Per Fink says.
"And it is beyond doubt that not only in Denmark but also in other countries, treatment offers are lacking. Part of the resistance is due to a fear that if we look at an illness from different perspectives simultaneously, the patients risk being overlooked and not taken seriously. And such fear may in some cases lead to resistance."
The purpose of the conference is to share the latest research results to strengthen the international body of research, and hopefully new collaborations across continents and frontiers will lead to better conditions for individuals with functional disorders. Functional disorders are still a group of illnesses in need of prioritization and attention.
The conference takes place on 20th-21st October at Columbia University Medical Center. Read more here:
Information on The Research Clinic for Functional Disorders and Psychosomatics, Aarhus University Hospital:
The Danish Health Authority's recommendations for assessment, treatment, rehabilitation af destigmatization ((in Danish):