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About Functional Disorders

Approx. 300,000 Danes are suffering from a functional disorder to an extent where it affects their quality of life. That corresponds to approx. 6% of the Danish population. Half are sick to the extent where they have difficulty managing their job.

There are many myths about functional disorders, and many patients are met with prejudice – prejudice caused by ignorance and misconception.

What is a functional disorder?

A functional disorder causes physical discomfort which makes everyday life difficult. It can be seen as a disorder where the mind and the body for various reasons are not functioning properly. 

In recent years, research has intensively been conducted into the cause and treatment of functional disorders. The research is nowhere near concluded and there are still many questions which we hope to be able to answer in our future research.


Among research scientists and practitioners there is a general consensus that: 

  • the cause of functional disorders is multi-factorial, and the conception of functional disorders challenges our usual way of thinking about an illness as either physical or psychological. 
  • the brain most likely plays a part in a functional disorder. Scans have showed changes in the way the brain reacts when the body is inflicted with pain. The cause of these changes and their meaning have not conclusively been clarified.
  • functional disorders are often caused by a combination of congenital vulnerability and strain and stress. The same way that some people react with depression or anxiety, others react with physical symptoms when they are under more stress than they can handle.
  • functional disorders can be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy and graded exercise therapy. Some patients will benefit from medicinal treatment, primarily from anti-depressant pills.
  • a functional disorder is a real disease.
  • the patients are not ‘pretending’ to be ill, and they are not patients who lie, cheat or exaggerate to gain social benefits.

Research shows that many patients can recover. Most of them can get a significantly better quality of life. However, some of them will have to keep showing consideration for their body and learn to live with the functional disorder, the same way that one can learn to live with other chronic diseases such as asthma or diabetes.

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Revised 12.08.2013