Somatic symptom disorder is a condition where the person focuses too much on the physical symptoms. Read this article to know more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Somatic symptom disorder is an unusual disorder in which the person tends to overthink about the physical symptoms he is facing and keeps worrying about them. In reality, the person may not be having any other health issues, all the biological parameters are normal but he gets obsessed about minute variation in the body. The patient needs to understand that whatever changes our body is undergoing is due to the reparative mechanism and healing capacity our body has as an inbuilt potential. The person also tends to get dependent on excessive usage of drugs even for a small headache or fever. Moreover, this person tries to solve all the somatic symptoms they are having. They begin to over-analyse the bodily changes. The disorder can be explained better with a good example. In the outbreak of COVID-19, almost everyone is aware of the causes and symptoms of it. In the never-ending zone of anxiety, it has caused even a small raise in high temperature is making us have a panic attack suspecting it to be COVID-19. “Letting certain things go” attitude is necessary to overcome these kinds of psychological mind setup. This may sound philosophical, but it is an actual fact. When you try to declutter your unnecessary thoughts, you apparently reduce your obsession.
The causes of somatic symptom disorder are :
Traumatic family patterns.
Sexual abuse and physical abuse.
Sensitivity to pain both physical and emotional.
Extreme avoidance attitude.
Women are more likely to be affected by somatic symptom disorders. People who are more than 30 years old are affected more. But it can start in adolescence and continue for a longer duration.
The symptoms of somatic symptom disorder might include certain general symptoms and specific symptoms. The nature of the symptoms might be ranged from mild to severe.
The general symptoms are body pain and fatigue. Specific symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath. In some of the patients, this disorder will not have any associated illness. But in some patients, it might be associated with life-threatening conditions such as cancer and AIDS. In most of the cases, there would not be any severe illness. The other symptoms are:
Constant distress about the health condition. Repetitive thoughts and behavior.
The person sees the normal changes as symptoms of serious health illness.
Any kind of small physical activity might make them feel a disastrous one.
The symptoms of the stomach could be abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
Painful sexual intercourse.
Negative thoughts about their health will make them rant about their condition to friends and family members. This will cause a negative feeling in the family too. Some family members accept the mental status of the patient in a caring way. But in traumatic families, the patient might be seen as an insane character. In such situations, the patient might be avoided by members of the family and left isolated. This isolation and loss of attention towards their illness will make them more depressed.
The patient will always have a need to visit the hospital. They will not feel grateful for the medications. Instead, they will always try to fault with the medications and side effects. In the worst cases, they might tend to have a doubtful nature about the skills of the doctor. They might keep changing their doctor. If a general physician is unable to detect the condition, the patient demands to move on to a more specialized doctor. If a psychiatrist diagnoses this condition in the patient also, they might be hesitant to identify the health condition.
There are many different methods of science and medicine. The person jumps from one treatment method to another even before the completion of one particular treatment method. For instance, when a person is following allopathic treatment methods, at some point in time, they might feel that this branch of medicine has a certain ability to cause many potential side effects. This attitude will make them shit to ayurvedic medicines, acupuncture, homeopathic treatments, etc.
Certain factors are known to contribute to increasing the risk of somatic symptom disorder. They are:
Alcohol and substance abuse.
Poor economic conditions.
Recurrent sexual abuse in the family.
Poor interpersonal relationships.
Unemployment or underemployment conditions.
Increased suicidal thoughts.
Other mental health conditions.
Before we see the negative effects, we must know about something called a placebo. Placebo is the technique used to make a person feel better by providing a substance that does not have any medicinal power or purpose. The substance can be altered by motivational words in psychology. Certain caring words and moral support from the family members and friends will help them attain this placebo effect. The placebo effect can be a very powerful technique in seriously ill patients. In this technique, the subconscious mind is given a boost with positive thoughts saying the person will completely recover. The negative effects are, when a person shows disrespect towards his body, the cells might tend to lose their proper physiological function due to the weakening of the subconscious mind. It is necessary to feed good things to your mind to stay healthy physically. The subconscious mind does not know the difference between reality and the false world. If you say to yourself you are alright, the subconscious mind will keep you healthy. But in somatic personality disorder, the person always keeps feeding negative feedback about their physical health. This makes the person unable to see the perfect functioning of other parts in there. A continuous focus on the negative aspects of the body makes them lose their confidence. This, in turn, makes the person fall more ill. Somatic symptom disorder can lead to poor financial status if the patient keeps performing several body scans.
Storyline: This story helps you to know more about somatic symptom disorder. There are two individuals invited for an experiment. They are allowed to sleep on two different beds. A partition is made between the two patients so that they do not look at each other. They both are blindfolded, and a syringe is injected into the forearms of both of them. One person is told that the syringe was inserted to suck away the blood and the other person was told that the syringe was inserted to provide some energy giving medications. This was repeated for a week, and the health status of both the individuals was studied. The first person lost all hopes of life and became terribly sick, the other person who was said to give good energy boosters was known to show the good health status that it was before. Their blindfolded eyes were brought back to normal. They were shocked to know that both of them were given ordinary solutions only. The negative feedback made on the first person caused them negative influences and made them sick. This could be the case of somatic symptom disorder. If the members surrounding the patient are continuously speaking good words, it can improve the condition of the patient. Their caretakers should know how to restrict unlimited visits to the doctor in an effective way.
This disorder is often misdiagnosed with other conditions. So it requires skilled professionals to identify this condition. The diagnosis can be made by psychologists and psychiatrists. Diagnostics and statistical manual- DSM-5 serves as a diagnostic tool for identification. A proper history of the patient is required. If the patient is not able to provide proper history, their caretakers should accompany them and discuss it with the doctor. The doctor might give you a questionnaire to test your condition.
The treatment involves psychotherapy. This can be combined with certain medications, if necessary.
If the patient is experiencing severe depression, antidepressants are prescribed. The dosage and days of medications should be consulted with the doctor. The medication might take a few days to show its effectiveness.
The psychotherapy technique involves motivating the person in the right way and helping them to be mentally healthy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the best method for the treatment of this condition. Make sure to have proper follow-ups with your doctor. The psychiatrist should become a positive influencer and trustworthy person for the patient. Only then the patient will consistently follow the treatment plan. Stress management with a few relaxation techniques might be useful.
Relaxation techniques are simple tools for relaxing the mind and body. Relaxation techniques can reduce:
•Heart rate and blood pressure.
•Levels of stress hormones.
It is best to organize a particular time and place to practice it each day. Find a safe and quiet place. Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Do it for 10–20 minutes once or twice a day, and also about three to five minutes for five times each day. Some relaxation techniques are described below.
•Close your eyes and stay relaxed. Focus on your breathing pattern. Take a slow and deep breath through the nostrils. Then breathe out through your mouth.
•This helps to clear your mind and declutter your thoughts.
•Close your eyes and imagine a safe, soothing, peaceful scene (e.g., a beach or quiet place in the garden).
•See yourself there, relaxed, peaceful, and staying happy.
All these techniques can be performed by yourself and are highly effective.
The prognosis for this condition is fair. But it is difficult for certain people to change their behavior. In such patients, a good prognosis is difficult to achieve.
Are you suffering from any of these symptoms? Call a doctor online.
Somatic symptom disorder is a debilitating mental illness characterized by a feeling of extreme anxiety that can cause one or more bodily symptoms, including pain, emotional distress, and difficulties in activities of daily living.
The goal of treatment is to improve the symptoms and ability to function in daily life. Psychotherapy, which is called talk therapy, can be helpful for somatic symptom disorder. Sometimes medications may be added, especially if a person is feeling depressed.
You can soothe somatic symptoms with:
- Massages: It can decrease somatic anxiety by relaxing muscles and relieving built-up tension that can cause muscle aches.
- Exercises: It reduces body-based anxiety by altering the body's chemical composition by inducing the brain to release serotonin, which makes you feel better in both body and mind.
- A Healthy Diet: Eating healthy foods can keep somatic anxiety at bay by helping you to maintain ideal body weight and strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles, which do not cause as much physical or mental distress.
- Zen Meditation: Zen meditation trains you to breathe steadily and evenly, which helps you to overcome the somatic anxiety symptom of hyperventilation and rapid breathing.
- Healthy Sleeping Habits: Healthy sleeping habits can give your body time to relax, recharge, and replace old and tired cells with healthy new cells.
The somatic disorder cannot be cured permanently for most people, but it is not that there is no hope. The key to cure lies in finding the right treatment plan for your unique needs. For a successful treatment, you must first have a trusting and supportive relationship with your consulting doctor. The treatment usually involves therapy, medication, or both to improve the quality of life and relieve anxiety over physical health.
Insomnia and poor sleep quality are closely linked with pain and somatic symptoms. Insomnia appears to modulate the sex differences in pain and somatic symptoms, especially in the adult population. A shared genetic predisposition might carry the associations of insomnia and sleep quality with pain and somatic symptoms.
The signs of somatic pain may include:
- Pain, particularly in the chest, arms, joints, legs, back, or stomach.
- Neurological symptoms like headaches, trouble moving, being dizzy, feeling weak, or fainting.
- Sexual symptoms like painful menstruation or pain during sex.
- Digestive issues including pain, constipation, diarrhea, or incontinence.
Fibromyalgia is classed as a pain disorder due to irregularities in how pain signals are processed in the central nervous system. Patients who have fibromyalgia often complain of depression, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, painful and tender points, or trigger points.
You can know that you have somatic symptoms if you have the following symptoms:
- History of going to many doctors till they agree that you have a severe illness.
- Recently experienced any loss or a stressful event.
- Too much concerned about a specific organ or body system, like the heart or the digestive system.
- If the doctor's reassurance does not calm your fears and you blame the doctor.
- If your concern about the illness interferes with your work, family, and social life.
- If you suffer from anxiety, nervousness, and depression.
Somatic symptom disorder represents both a psychological and physical condition. The physical aspect of the disease predominantly involves persistent pain, followed by psychological symptoms of excessive and persistently high anxiety levels. In this, the person's primary physical problem is the experience of pain. It can begin at any age and is more common in women. It often develops after an accident or during an illness that has caused genuine pain.
Last reviewed at:
24 Jun 2022 - 7 min read
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