Somatic symptom disorder consists of an obsessive focus on physical senses such as pain and fatigue. Patients afflicted by somatic symptom disorder are diagnosed with significant distress and difficulty functioning normally.
Previously referred to as somatoform disorder or somatization disorder, somatic symptom disorder leads to excessive thoughts and feelings about physical symptoms. The belief that you’re suffering from physical pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, or frailness does not go away despite reassurance from medical professionals that you are, in fact, in perfect health.
A person diagnosed with this portrays the following symptoms:
- Pain, especially in the chest, arms, legs, back, abdomen, and joints.
- Severe headache, physical disability, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and other neurological symptoms.
- Abdominal pains and bowel complications, diarrhea, constipation, incontinence, and other digestive symptoms
- Sexual syndromes, including painful sexual activity or painful periods
With symptoms ranging from mild to severe in different patients, most indicate experiencing more than one.
Commonly diagnosed in women rather than men, somatic symptom disorder results from several factors, including biological susceptibility, childhood trauma, and a learned way of thinking. The main factors are:
- Extreme anxiety and scrutiny of bodily processes, low pain threshold
- Stunted emotional development possibly due to parental neglect during childhood
- Physical and sexual child abuse
Treating somatic symptom disorder to improve a patient’s quality of life and relieve anxiety involves medication, therapy, or a blend of both.
Psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavior therapy, involves engaging the patient to pinpoint negative or illogical thoughts and patterns and working through them.
Antidepressant medication also aids in repressing somatic symptom disorders and anxiety. An ideal combination when paired with psychotherapy, antidepressant medication causes side effects when prescribed initially and should only be medically recommended.