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Somatic Symptom Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is somatic symptom disorder?

When an individual feels excessive anxiety about his/her physical symptoms like fatigue or pain, it is referred as somatic symptom disorder (SSD). The individual will have intense feelings, thoughts and behaviours relating to the symptoms which interfere with their daily routine.

Somatic Symptom Disorder

Many times, no physical cause can be attributed to their malady. Individuals suffering from somatic symptom disorder face problems mainly with their extreme behaviour and reaction.

Somatic symptom disorder is now an umbrella term as per DSM-5, it includes somatoform and other related disorders like hysteria.

Individuals with SSD may be linked with a lot of stigmas; there is a possibility that the physician may dismiss the individual’s issues as a figment of their imagination. SSD is usually reported before the age of 30 and more often in females than in males.

Causes

The precise cause of somatic symptom disorder is not known. However, the role of the following factors is plausible:

  • Genetics
  • Upbringing
  • Possessing a negative outlook
  • Learned behavior

Symptoms

The symptoms can include:

  • Palpitations, shortness of breath and chest pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and bloating
  • Back pain, joint pain, pain in the arms or legs
  • Feel extremely anxious about their symptoms
  • Assume milder symptoms to be serious conditions
  • Goes for multiple tests and doesn’t believe the results
  • Feel their doctor has not taken them seriously
  • Seeking high-level medical care
  • Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors) for the same symptoms
  • Spend a lot of time brooding over health concerns
  • Normal function is affected because of their behaviour, feeling, thoughts about their symptoms

Diagnosis

A physical exam will be performed by your physician who will recommend some relevant tests to check for physical causes of your symptoms. Tests will depend on the symptoms one presents with. One may be referred to a mental health provider for further evaluation. A psychological assessment will be done to rule out any related disorders.

Treatment

Individuals seeking treatment for SSD must have a supportive relationship with their physician.

Ideally, there must be a single primary health care provider to avoid repeated tests and procedures. Visits to a therapist (mental health care provider) also may be required.

Psychotherapy

Based on cognitive behavioural therapy, newer approaches have been found to bring down the frequency and intensity of the SSD. Such sessions incorporate general advice on problem-solving, managing stress and social skills training, etc.

Pharmacological Treatment

Certain psychiatric disorders relating to SSD, particularly depression and anxiety respond well to antidepressants.

Prevention

Counselling can help individuals who are prone to SSD in learning ways to deal with their stress. Counselling can assist them in bringing down the intensity of symptoms.

Complications

SSD if not treated, may lead to complications like:

  • Issues with normal functioning
  • Problems in social life and at workplace
  • A greater risk of suicide and depression
  • Dependency on sedatives or pain relievers

Next Steps

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about your physical symptoms that don’t allow you to function normally and have symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Consult a top Psychiatrist

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References

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  • Jackson JL, George S, Hinchey S; Medically unexplained physical symptoms. J Gen Intern Med. 2009 Apr; 24(4):540-2.
  • Kallivayalil RA, Punnoose VP; Understanding and managing somatoform disorders: Making sense of non-sense. Indian J Psychiatry. 2010 Jan; 52(Suppl 1):S240-5.
  • Shidhaye R, Mendenhall E, Sumathipala K, et al; Association of somatoform disorders with anxiety and depression in women in low and middle income countries: a systematic review. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2013 Feb; 25(1):65-76.
  • Somatic Symptom Disorder. DSM5.org. http://www.dsm5.org/documents/somatic%20symptom%20disorder%20fact%20sheet.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2016.
  • Somatic symptom disorder. MedlinePlus. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000955.htm. Accessed 1 June 2016.
  • Somatic Symptom Disorder. Merck Manual. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/somatic-symptom-and-related-disorders/somatic-symptom-disorder. Accessed 1 June 2016.

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