Somatic Symptom Disorder
Somatic symptom disorder occurs when a person feels so distressed about physical symptoms and feels or responds abnormally to them. Somatic symptom disorder can be associated with problems carrying out activities of daily living, poor health, problems with relationships, unemployment or problems at work, and mental health disorders. We’ll consider this condition in detail shortly.
Table of content
- What is somatic symptom disorder?
- What are the signs of somatic symptom disorder?
- What causes somatic symptom disorder?
- Who is at risk?
- How is somatic symptom disorder diagnosed?
- Possible complications
What is somatic symptom disorder?
Somatic symptom disorder is characterized by obsession over physical senses, weakness, shortness of breath, pain, and other similar symptoms. This condition was previously referred to as somatization disorder or somatoform disorder. People with somatic symptom disorder believe that they have a medical condition even though they’ve not been diagnosed with anything. The view persists despite many reassurances from their healthcare provider that they have no underlying health issue.
Somatic symptom disorder can lead to emotional stress.
What are the signs of somatic symptom disorder?
The primary symptom is the belief that you have an underlying medical condition, which may not be accurate. Instead, the medical condition only exists in the person’s imagination. These conditions range from mild to severe and may be very specific or general.
Other features include:
- Symptoms that are unrelated to any known medical condition
- Symptoms are related to a medical condition but more extreme than usual.
- Intense or constant anxiety about an illness
- Having the fear that your body may be harmed by physical activity
- Believing that your healthcare provider has not examined or treated you properly
- Worrying about the severity of mild conditions, like a runny nose
- Examining your body repeatedly for physical signs of illness
- Experiencing a disability that tends to be more severe than what is generally associated with a condition
- Hypersensitivity to the side effects of a medication
The problem with somatic symptom disorder is that it is usually tough to differentiate it from an actual medical condition because the affected person genuinely believes that he has a medical condition. In addition, obsession often interferes with daily life.
What causes somatic symptom disorder?
Medical researchers do not precisely understand the cause of somatic symptom disorder. However, it is most likely caused by:
- Genetic traits, like sensitivity to pain
- Inability to deal with stress
- Having negative affectivity. This means a personality trait that involves poor self-image and negative emotions.
- Decreased awareness of one’s emotions makes you concentrate more on physical issues than emotional ones.
Any trait, or a combination of all, can contribute to this disorder.
Who is at risk?
Medical researchers have identified certain risk factors that may trigger a somatic symptom disorder. These risk factors include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Being diagnosed with a medical condition
- Recovering from a medical condition
- Past traumatic experiences
- Having a high risk of developing a medical condition, for instance, due to traits.
How is somatic symptom disorder diagnosed?
Before receiving a diagnosis, your healthcare provider will give you a thorough physical exam. The aim is to check for signs of a physical illness.
If there’s no evidence of a medical condition, you’ll be referred to a mental health professional, who will ask you a couple of questions, including:
- Family history
- Stress sources
- Symptoms, including the duration you’ve had them
- History of substance abuse
You may be given a questionnaire about your lifestyle and symptoms. However, your healthcare provider will focus more on your personal views about your symptoms than the symptoms themselves.
Diagnosis is made if you:
- Have plenty of thoughts about the severity of your symptoms.
- Experience physical symptoms that interfere with your daily activities
- Experience these symptoms consistently for six months or more.
This disorder may be treated with antidepressant medications or cognitive behavioral therapy.
If left untreated, this symptom disorder may trigger certain complications for your lifestyle and overall health. In addition, worrying about your health constantly can make your daily activities very difficult.
People with a somatic symptom disorder may find it difficult to maintain close relationships. For instance, family members and close friends may think you’re lying for malicious reasons.
Frequent visits to your doctor may incur medical costs and difficulty maintaining a regular work schedule. In addition, these complications can put you through more stress and anxiety.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.