“My research focuses partly on epidemiology and basic research and partly on developing psychological interventions either face to face or internet-based, which provides an option for the patients who live far away from a specialized unit.”
How do we find the best possible treatment for children and adolescents who suffer from persistent bodily symptoms that cannot be adequately explained by well-defined pathology? That question drives professor Charlotte Rask, born 1967, who is a researcher in the field of functional disorders.
5-10 percent of all Danish children and adolescents experience daily unspecific symptoms such as headache, stomach ache, fainting, dizziness and fatigue that cannot be traced to any well-defined physical disease or psychiatric disorder and are therefore classified as ‘bodily distress’ or ‘functional’. For adults, the corresponding figure is 300,000 or 6 percent, who experience a functional disorder to an extent where it affects their quality of life.
“In recent years, effective and specialized treatments have been developed for adults,” Charlotte Rask says, “but similar treatments for the majority of young patients are still very limited. Systematic research into younger age groups is also quite sparse so I consider it a gold-mine to explore this field research-wise.”
Currently Charlotte Rask is involved with a handful of studies, including several international collaborations. One of the projects: ‘To feel or not to feel’ is hosted in the Netherlands and investigates how social interactions between a child and parent affects the tendency to develop symptoms. Another comprehensive study, ETUDE (European Training Network for functional disorders) involves an EU grant and focuses on mechanisms, diagnoses, treatment and societal aspects for functional disorders.
“My research focuses partly on epidemiology and basic research and partly on developing psychological interventions either face to face or internet-based, which provides an option for the patients who live far away from a specialized unit,” says Charlotte Rask. She highlights a project that investigates the applicability of internet-based self-help intervention in primary care – and another study that tests internet-based psychological treatment for functional gastrointestinal disorders at all ages.
Charlotte Rask also prioritizes communication to a larger audience, including up-to-date information material for the actual protagonists and has, among other things, contributed to a webpage with evidence-based information on functional seizures, a booklet for children with functional abdominal pain and book-chapters on functional disorders in Danish and international textbooks.