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Somatic symptom reports in the general population: application of a bi-factor model to the analysis of change.

Porsius, J.T., Martens, A.L., Slottje, P., Claassen, L., Korevaar, J.C., Timmermans, D.R.M., Vermeulen, R., Smid, T. Somatic symptom reports in the general population: application of a bi-factor model to the analysis of change. Journal of Psychosomatic Research: 2015, 79(5), 378-383
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Objective
To investigate the latent structure of somatic symptom reports in the general population with a bi-factor model and apply the structure to the analysis of change in reported symptoms after the emergence of an uncertain environmental health risk.

Methods
Somatic symptoms were assessed in two general population environmental health cohorts (AMIGO, n = 14,829 & POWER, n = 951) using the somatization scale of the four-dimensional symptom questionnaire (4DSQ-S). Exploratory bi-factor analysis was used to determine the factor structure in the AMIGO cohort. Multi-group and longitudinal models were applied to assess measurement invariance. For a subsample of residents living close to a newly introduced power line (n = 224), we compared a uni- and multidimensional method for the analysis of change in reported symptoms after the power line was put into operation.

Results
We found a good fit (RMSEA = 0.03, CFI = 0.98) for a bi-factor model with one general and three symptom specific factors (musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, cardiopulmonary). The latent structure was found to be invariant between cohorts and over time. A significant increase (p < .05) was found only for musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal symptoms after the power line was put into operation.

Conclusions
In our study we found that a bi-factor structure of somatic symptoms reports was equivalent between cohorts and over time. Our findings suggest that taking this structure into account can lead to a more informative interpretation of a change in symptom reports compared to a unidimensional approach. (aut. ref.)