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Psychosomatic and Somatoform Disorders: Information, Types and Treatment

  • Publish Date : 2015/04/06 - (Rev. 2019/05/03)
  • Author : Thomas C. Weiss
  • Contact : Disabled World

Synopsis: Information regarding Psychosomatic Disorders including types and treatment methods.


Main Document

The word, 'psychosomatic,' means mind or, 'psyche,' and body or, 'soma.' A psychosomatic disorder is a disease involving both mind and body, in other words. Some physical diseases are thought to be especially prone to worsen by mental factors such as anxiety and stress. A person's current mental state may affect how bad a physical disease is at any particular moment.

Psychosomatic illnesses can be classified in three general forms.

  • The first form includes those who experience both a mental illness and a medical one; these illnesses complicate the symptoms and management of each other.
  • The second form includes those who experience a psychiatric issue that is a direct result of a medical illness or its treatment; having depression due to cancer and its treatment for example.
  • The third form of psychosomatic illness is, 'somatoform,' disorders. Somatoform disorders are psychiatric ones that are displayed through physical issues. What this means is the physical symptoms people experience are related to psychological factors instead of a medical cause.

Somatoform disorders may include the following:

  • Somatization Disorder: A disorder in which a person experiences physical complaints such as diarrhea, headaches, premature ejaculation, or ones that do not have a physical cause.
  • Conversion Disorder: A disorder in which a person experiences neurological symptoms affecting their movement and senses which do not seem to have a physical cause. Symptoms may include blindness, seizures, or paralysis.
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder: An obsession or preoccupation with an imaginary or minor flaw such as wrinkles, small breasts, or the size or shape of another part of the person's body. Body dysmorphic disorder causes severe anxiety and might impact a person's ability to function as usual in their daily life.
  • Hypochondriasis: A fixation or obsession with the fear of having a serious form of disease. People with hypochondriasis misconstrue usual body functions or minor symptoms as being serious or even life-threatening. A person; for example, with hypochondriasis might become convinced that they have colon cancer when experiencing temporary flatulence after consuming cabbage.

Psychosomatic Diseases

To some extent, most diseases are indeed psychosomatic; they involve a person's body and mind. There is a mental aspect to every physical disease. The way a person reacts to and copes with disease varies widely from person to person. A rash of psoriasis; for example, might not bother some people too much. Yet the rash covering the same portions of the body in another person may make them feel depressed and more sick.

There may be physical effects from mental illness. For example; some people with mental illnesses might not take care of themselves, eat appropriately, or take care of themselves - which can cause physical issues. The term, 'psychosomatic disorder;' however, is mainly used to mean a physical disease that is believed to be caused, or worsened, by mental factors.

Some physical diseases are thought to be especially prone to be worsened by mental factors such as anxiety and stress. Examples include eczema, psoriasis, high blood pressure, ulcers and heart disease. It is thought that the actual physical part of the person's illness might be affected by mental factors; something that is hard to prove.

Many people; however, with these and other physical diseases say their current mental state can affect how bad their physical disease is at any particular time. Some people also use the term, 'psychosomatic disorder,' when mental factors cause physical symptoms, but where there is no physical disease. A chest pain; for example, might be caused by stress and no physical disease is found. It is well known that the mind can cause physical symptoms. When a person is anxious or afraid; for example, they might develop:

  • Tremor
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Palpitations
  • Increased heart rate
  • A, 'knot,' in the stomach
  • Increased breathing rate

The physical symptoms are due to increased activity of nervous impulses sent from the person's brain to different parts of their body, as well as to the release of adrenaline into the person's bloodstream when they are anxious.

Causes

The exact way a person's mind may cause certain additional symptoms remains unclear. How a person's mind can affect actual physical diseases is not known with certainty. It might have something to do with nervous impulses going to the person's body, which is not fully understood. There is some evidence the brain might have the ability to affect certain cells of the immune system, something involved in various physical diseases.

The exact cause of somatoform disorders is something that is not completely understood. Somatoform disorders are believed to be, 'familial,' meaning genetics might play a role. Somatoform disorders may also be triggered by strong emotions such as anxiety, trauma, grief, depression, stress, guilt or anger. People who experience somatoform disorders generally will not recognize the role these emotions play in their physical symptoms. They are not; however, intentionally producing the physical symptoms, or making up their physical issues. Their physical symptoms are real, yet are caused by psychological factors.

Women are more likely than men to experience a somatoform disorder. The symptoms often times start before the person has reached thirty years of age and persist for a number of years. The severity of the symptoms might vary from year to year, but there are rarely times when the person's symptoms are absent.

There is currently no, 'cure,' for somatoform disorders. Treatment concentrates on establishing a consistent and supportive relationship between the person and their doctor. Referral to a psychiatrist may help a person with somatoform disorders to manage their symptoms. Even though treatment can be difficult, those who experience somatoform disorders can live well - even if they continue to experience symptoms.

Symptoms

Somatoform disorders are the major forms of psychosomatic illness. The physical symptoms of somatoform disorders are all too real, they have psychological roots instead of physical causes. The symptoms often times resemble symptoms of medical illness. People who experience somatoform disorders might undergo extensive testing and medical evaluations to find out the cause of the symptoms they are experiencing. Somatoform disorders include:

  • Hypochondriasis
  • Conversion disorder
  • Somatization disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder

The disorders may cause difficulties in a person's everyday life to include academic, social and occupational issues. People who experience body dysmorphic disorder can become obsessed with what are actually minor flaws in their physical appearance, or might perceive flaws where none actually exist. Common concerns include the loss of hair, the shape and size of bodily features such as nose, breast, or eye appearance, as well as wrinkles and weight gain. Symptoms and associated behaviors of body dysmorphic disorder can include the following:

  • Avoiding mirrors
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Avoiding being seen in public
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Constant checking of appearance in a mirror
  • Desiring reassurance from others about the person's appearance

Conversion Disorder Symptoms

The symptoms of conversion disorder usually look like neurological issues and can include double vision or blindness, loss of sensation, difficulties with swallowing, and impaired coordination or balance. The symptoms a person with conversion disorder may experience also include seizures, issues with urinary retention, an inability to speak, paralysis or weakness.

Symptoms of Hypochondriasis

Hypochondriasis is the condition of thinking that usual body functions or minor symptoms represent a serious medical condition. A person with hypochondriasis may interpret a headache as a brain tumor, or muscle soreness as a sign of impending paralysis. Common symptoms of hypochondriasis can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Repeated visits to a doctor until a diagnosis is made
  • Feeling that a doctor has made a mistake by not diagnosing the cause of the symptoms
  • Seeking constant reassurance from family members and friends about the symptoms they experience

Symptoms of Somatization Disorder

Somatization disorder is characterized by physical symptoms without a physical cause. Somatization disorder may have some different symptoms. These symptoms can include the following:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Painful intercourse
  • Painful menstruation

People with Somatoform Disorders and Indications of a Serious or Life-threatening Condition:

People who experience somatoform disorders are at risk for suicidal thoughts and actions. Pursue immediate medical care if you, or a person you are with, have tried to harm or kill oneself, or have had thoughts about harming or killing oneself. People with somatoform disorders are also at risk of developing major depression. Pursue prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Persistent feelings of emptiness or sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Sleep issues such as excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Difficulties with remembering things or concentrating
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities, to include sex
  • Changes in eating habits such as loss of appetite or overeating

Treating Psychosomatic Disorders

Treating somatoform disorders, which make up most of psychosomatic illnesses, may be challenging. After ruling out physical causes of a person's symptoms, it usually concentrates on establishing a trusting and supportive relationship between the person and their doctor. The person's doctor will recommend regular checkups as one of the most important parts of the their treatment.

The person's doctor might refer them to a psychiatrist for assistance with managing their disorder. Psychotherapy; specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy, might be effective in relieving some of the underlying psychological factors causing the person's physical symptoms. Learning how to manage stress in a healthy way through stress management techniques may be a part of the person's therapy. If a specific mental disorder such as depression can be identified, treatment with medications can also help.

Symptoms of a somatoform disorder may continue, despite efforts at cognitive-behavioral therapy. When this happens, treatment can be aimed at providing symptomatic relief and helping people to live their lives. Medications might be administered to help provide relief from symptoms such as fatigue, headache, or digestive issues. Medications; however, might not be needed in all instances.

To improve the person's disorder, while attempting to control their somatoform symptoms, can include some different things. These things include practicing stress management techniques, keeping regularly scheduled checkup appointments, and following the treatment plan the person and their doctor design for them.

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