Somatic Symptom Disorder

Somatic Symptom Disorder, previously known as Somatization Disorder, is a disorder where the patient overly focuses on physical symptoms — such as pain or fatigue — to the point that it causes major emotional distress and problems functioning.

A person with this disorder can worry excessively over certain bodily sensations and symptoms, such as stomach pain, that generally doctors can’t explain. A person with somatic symptom disorder believes these various sensations are signs of a serious illness, like stomach cancer, even though there is no medical evidence for it.

The affected person will think the worst about their symptoms and continue to search for an explanation, even when serious conditions have been ruled out by doctors. Health concerns may become such a central focus of life that it’s hard to function.

The diagnostic criteria states that the affected person must show symptoms (concern over physical health or anxiety over somatic sensations) for at least 6 months, even if the actual pain is not there.

Symptoms can be:

  • Sensations such as pain or shortness of breath, or fatigue and weakness.
  • These sensations are unrelated to any medical cause that can be identified.
  • A single symptom, multiple symptoms or varying symptoms.
  • Mild, moderate or severe.

Physical symptoms can then lead to excessive thoughts, feelings or behaviors, which can cause significant problems, make it difficult to function and sometimes can be disabling.

Excessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors can include:

  • Intense worry about potential illness.
  • Perceiving normal physical sensations as a sign of serious physical illness.
  • Fearing the medical seriousness of symptoms, even when there is no evidence to support that concern.
  • Appraising physical sensations as threatening or harmful, when they are not.
  • Feeling that medical evaluation and treatment have not been adequate.
  • Fearing that physical activity may cause harm to the body.
  • Repeatedly checking the body for abnormalities
  • Frequent health care visits that don’t relieve concerns or that make them worse.
  • Being unresponsive to medical treatment or unusually sensitive to medication side effects.
  • Having a more severe impairment than would usually be expected related to a medical condition.

Treatments:

There are several treatment options including medication and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy:

Psychotherapy can help you:

  • Examine and adapt your beliefs and expectations about health and physical symptoms.
  • Learn how to reduce stress.
  • Learn how to cope with physical symptoms.
  • Reduce preoccupation with symptoms.
  • Reduce avoidance of situations and activities due to uncomfortable physical sensations.
  • Improve daily functioning at home, at work, in relationships and in social situations.
  • Address depression and other mental health disorders.

Medication:

Anti-depressants may be given in order to reduce symptoms associated with depression which arises due to helpless feelings regarding pain.

Lifestyle and home remedies:

Stress management strategies that include nutrition and exercise are associated with reduced symptoms. Exercise also distracts the mind away from focusing solely on pain.

Meditation:

Meditation is an effective form of stress management for those affected by somatic symptom disorder. It helps clear or empty the mind of overwhelming negative thoughts related to pain and stress; instead the mind focuses on the present moment in a non-judgmental, non-reactive way.  People with somatic symptom disorder spend a large amount of time thinking about possible illnesses. Meditation allows them to attune with the present moment, step back, and watch emotions and thoughts come back and forth with a relaxed mind. We tend to focus on thoughts that cause anxiety, and then get anxiety from thinking these thoughts. Meditation allows for a relaxed mind, free from the stressful thoughts  that are associated with this disorder.

 

Sources:

http://psychcentral.com/disorders/somatic-symptom-disorder/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/somatic-symptom-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20124065