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Brits can't tell their heart from their elbow

Grey anatomy

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A good proportion of Brits have almost no idea where their major organs are located, with just 50 per cent able to identify where eight key internal body parts lie.

That's according to research by a King's College London team which quizzed 722 people from the out-patient departments of Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s hospitals and "an opportunistic sample obtained primarily from users of a south London public library".

The purpose of the test was twofold: To see if public performance had improved since the last such survey back in 1970; and to see if those suffering a particular illness, for example of the liver, were any the wiser as a result of their ailment.

Four possible locations of the kidneys

The subjects were given diagrams showing four possible locations of the organ in question (see pic). While 94 per cent of the general public knew just where the intestines are, just 45.9 per cent could spot the liver and a mere 27.1 per cent pinpointed the lungs and kidneys.

While the results were pretty much the same for males and females (45.4 per cent and 50.9 per cent overall, respectively), women were "significantly better at identifying organs on female body outlines". Forty-three per cent of them successfully marked the ovaries, but a disappointing 31.7 per cent of chaps managed the same.

Two specific groups did manage to score well above average. Those among the out-patient sample suffering from liver disease scored 75.3 per cent in spying the liver and those with diabetes clocked up 75.3 per cent nailing down the pancreas (just 30.8 per cent of the general public).

In the case of gastro-intestinal complaints, though, 46.3 per cent of sufferers located the stomach, not much different from the 48.1 per cent of the general public who managed the same.

Overall, the results hardly differed from those in 1970, with a current mean total of 52.5 per cent, compared to 51.4 per cent.

The researchers conclude: "Many patients and general public do not know the location of key body organs, even those in which their medical problem is located, which could have important consequences for doctor-patient communication.

"These results indicate that healthcare professionals still need to take care in providing organ specific information to patients and should not assume that patients have this information, even for those organs in which their medical problem is located."

The findings are published in journal BMC Family Practice. There's a pdf of the results here. ®

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