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Somatic Symptom Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

Somatic Symptom Disorder (Somatization Disorder)

Somatic Symptom Disorder (previously called Somatoform Disorder or Somatization Disorder), also known as the Briquet’s Disorder and in some cases, Hysteria (meaning frenzy or panic), is characterized by persistent complains of physical discomfort or malfunctioning without an identifiable physical symptom. Some of the most common complains are related to the head, abdomen, joints, chest, rectum and back and sufferers may also complain of functional difficulties such as altered menstrual cycles, inability to perform sexually and digestion related difficulties.


Somatization Disorder is one of the commonest somatoform disorders (psychological distresses expressed in the form of physical symptoms) that have been identified by psychosomatic therapists. Up to 2% of adult females and 0.2% of adult males and a considerable number of children and adolescents are said to be suffering from this disorder throughout the world.

In order to diagnose a condition as Somatization Disorder, the individual should be below the age of thirty and must show the symptoms (usually occurring in clusters) for a period of few years. Also, all necessary tests must be conducted in order to ensure that the condition has no physical cause.

Researches have identified that Somatization Disorders are largely culture bound. Westerners are likely to complains of chest pains and migraine headaches, whereas African and Asians are more likely to experience it in the form of a ‘worms in the head’ or ‘ants under the skin’ sensation. Middle Eastern women are considered as an especially vulnerable group when it comes to Somatization Disorder. Even though the condition is relatively rare in men, due to the fact that women tend to internalize stressors that cause them to show physical symptoms, men who do experience the condition is likely to display antisocial or asocial behavior.

The causes of Somatization Disorder vary from mild depression to experience of severe trauma. According to psychodynamic theorists, if an individual represses a negative emotion for a considerable period of time, it is likely to show a sudden display in the form of physical distresses. Psychology explains it as a consequence of losing the balance between the mind and the body. In fact, numerous recent researches have shown that there are two-way connections between the brain and the immune system. Thus, when stress of any form disrupts the brain, it is likely to express itself via our organs.

Another popular theory explains that people who do experience the Somatization Disorder has a tendency to be overly sensitive to the internal bodily processes, a concept known as hypersensitivity. For such individuals, the smallest malfunctioning is likely to cause major discomfort. In addition, some theorists state that denial of physiological distresses may cause it to show in the form of physical ailments. Simply put, Somatization Disorders are the way in which our bodies bring to our attention, that something is wrong.

Somatization Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder may vary from individual to individual. However, more than one physical symptom that cannot be attributed to general medical conditions must exist for several years. Some of the commonest symptoms of the disorder include:
  • migraine headaches
  • digestive problems including the swollen bowel syndrome, diarrhea, etc
  • vomiting and nausea
  • sensory dysfunctions such as double vision, blindness and the inability to feel the sensation of touch
  • chest aches mostly in the form of tightening from within the rib cage
  • allergic reactions such as rashes, twitching, etc
  • joint aches and back aches
  • sexual malfunctioning such as pain, inability to maintain and erection, altered menstrual cycles
  • sleep disturbances
In addition, the psychosomatic symptoms must cause severe impairment in daily lives of the sufferers. They may have socializing problems, visible cognitive disruptions including memory problems, trouble in concentration and critical/creative thinking and/or emotional distress. In some cases they may withdraw socially, experience perceptional impairments and even harm themselves.

Somatization Disorder Treatment

The most successful treatment for Somatic Symptom Disorder is a combination of medical care and psychotherapy (also called talk therapy). Antidepressants can be used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and behavioral responses and altering them. With time, patients with psychosomatic symptoms, learn to think rationally while engaging in activities that promote positive health. Relation training, sleep hygiene, family therapy, communication and social skill training are some other forms of therapy that has been proven successful. Medication and yoga has been especially successful in helping individuals relieve from their psychosomatic conditions. These forms of relation are centered on the objective of obtaining the ultimate harmony or equilibrium between the mind and the body.

Most often, patients with Somatization Disorder spend years looking for physical causes to no avail. This can lead to worsening of the symptoms and much severe impairments in the individual. Thus, it is necessary to know whether one’s symptoms have a psychological cause behind it and test for them as quickly as possible.

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