10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) or somatoform disorder is a type of mental health condition that induces one or more physiological symptoms, such as discomfort. The signs of this mental health condition may or may not be linked to a physical problem, such as general medical problems, mental disorders, or substance misuse. Nevertheless, they create disproportionately high levels of distress. One or more body systems and organs may be involved in the symptoms, such as:

  • Biological mechanism of pain processing
  • Problems with the nervous system
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Symptoms of sexual dysfunction
  • Anxiety disorders are common in those who have SSD.

SSD sufferers aren’t exaggerating their symptoms. Whether or not a biological cause can be identified, the pain, as well as other troubles people are experiencing, are real. Moreover, the anguish caused by symptoms has a major impact on daily functioning.

Before detecting this disorder, doctors must do numerous somatic symptom disorder tests to rule out other probable causes.

Patients may experience a great deal of frustration and stress after receiving a diagnosis of SSD. If there is no other scientific explanation for the symptoms or if they are informed their level of suffering regarding a physical condition is excessive, they may be dissatisfied. Patients who are stressed are more likely to be concerned about their health, creating a cycle that can last for years.

Psychiatry has recently identified a number of disorders linked to SSD. These are some of them:

Anxiety Disorder Due to an illness or a Disease (previously called Hypochondriasis). This personality type is preoccupied with the fear of contracting a serious illness. They may mistakenly feel that mild ailments are symptoms of more significant medical issues. They might believe, for example, that a common headache is an indication of a brain tumor.

Conversion disorder is a condition that occurs when a person (also known as Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder). People with neurological symptoms that cannot be linked to a medical explanation are diagnosed with this illness. Individuals may have signs like:

  • Weakness or immobility
  • Movements that are unusual (like unsteady gait, tremor, or seizures)
  • Blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Numbness or loss of sensation
  • Convulsions (called pseudoseizures or nonepileptic seizures)

Other Disorders with Specific Somatic Symptoms. This category refers to medical situations in which somatic symptoms last less than 6 months or entail a condition known as pseudocyesis, which is a delusional idea that a woman is pregnant that is accompanied by other external signs of pregnancy, such as an expansive abdomen, labor discomfort, nausea, breast changes, fetal movement, and menstrual period cessation.

You will most likely undergo a medical examination and whatever tests your clinician prescribes to establish a diagnosis. If you have any medical conditions that require treatment, your physician or another medical professional can assist you.

  • You may also be referred to a mental health specialist by your medical healthcare professional, who may:
  • Discuss your symptoms, anxieties, concerns, stressful situations, interpersonal issues, scenarios you may be evading, and family background during a psychological evaluation.
  • Make you complete a psychological quiz or self-assessment proforma
  • Inquire about your alcohol consumption, drugs, or other substances.

Diagnostic criteria

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) highlights these factors in the identification of somatic symptom disorder:

  • You get one or more somatic complaints that are bothersome or interfere with daily life, such as pain or exhaustion.
  • You have a consistently great deal of anxiety regarding your condition or symptoms, or you dedicate too much time and attention to your symptoms or medical concerns.
  • Although the symptoms may change, you continue to experience symptoms that bother you for more than 6 months.

It’s tempting to convince a loved one that their problems are “all in their head” when they experience somatic symptoms. This strategy is unlikely to work. It may potentially exacerbate the problems by making the individual feel ostracized. Even if a patient’s symptoms are caused by a psychiatric condition, the agony they experience is still real.

Getting people to speak about their general dissatisfaction with their health is a more effective method. It’s critical to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing negative feelings. Don’t pass judgment on or dispute another person’s feelings. Those emotions exist whether or not you agree with them. Instead, hear with empathy and give advice on how to cope with those emotions. If a person can vocally communicate their emotions, they will be less comfortable expressing them physically.

Somatic symptom disorder is a complicated illness that necessitates long-term, reassuring partnerships with knowledgeable and caring healthcare practitioners. Uncertainty and a lack of faith in one’s own capacity to distinguish between normal physical experiences and those that warn of danger are frequently at the heart of the problem. It can be difficult for patients, family members, and healthcare experts to determine if new symptoms are related to a serious illness or are simply normal emotions of pain.

The fact that many persons with the disease have continuing chronic illnesses that can vary and worsen over time further complicates the picture. The technique of handling somatic symptom disorders thus involves striking a balance between the necessity for a thorough medical examination and over-diagnosis and therapy. Only a trustworthy partnership with a competent clinician, typically a primary care practitioner or primary care staff, may achieve this equilibrium.

A person with somatic symptom disorders can benefit from family members’ continued support and understanding, as well as the encouragement of solid and consistent healthcare ties. Family members can also aid in the implementation of treatment programs that aim to avoid urgent and emergent medical care in favor of outpatient visits with a consistent practitioner. Family members can also help the person who is ill track and document symptoms for future discussion with his or her healthcare professional. Family members can also help the person’s healthcare team by providing reassurance and communicating with them.

It’s also crucial to recognize the toll these symptoms can have on one’s ability to function, as well as to convey empathy for the anxiety and bewilderment that invariably accompany these conditions. A similar strategy might be used by spouses and family members. Avoid direct conflict over the veracity of the symptoms and instead assist the client in identifying practical and creative solutions and coping mechanisms that can help them cope with the illness’ consequences. 

Acknowledging the psychological burden of feeling isolated during this process, as well as promoting awareness of mental health issues that could be portrayed as “side effects” of these symptoms, could be a bridge to more rigorous mental health care. In addition, couples can assist by practicing care and affection.

Urge a loved one to seek psychiatric help, not for the somatization itself, but for the emotions that lead to it. Some people are afraid of therapy or find the process of choosing a therapist overwhelming. You may volunteer to assist the client in finding a therapist or even accompany them to their first visit.

Treatment focuses on improving your symptoms as well as your ability to operate in everyday life. Somatic symptom disorders can benefit from psychotherapy, often known as talk therapy. Medications may be prescribed in some cases, particularly if you are depressed.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for psychosomatic treatment can assist in reducing physical symptoms since they are linked to psychological discomfort and higher standards of health anxiety.

CBT for somatic symptom disorder can assist you in the following ways:

  • Analyze and revise your perceptions and beliefs about health and physical symptoms.
  • Find out how to deal with stress.
  • Understand how to deal with physical signs and symptoms.
  • Limit your preoccupation with symptoms.
  • Reduce the situations where you forgo events and activities because of unpleasant physical effects.
  • Improve your daily performance at work, at home, in social situations, and relationships.
  • Take steps to fix depression and other psychiatric issues.

Addressing family ties and increasing family help and behavior towards psychiatric illnesses may also be beneficial in family therapy.

Medications

Antidepressant medications can help with pain sensations and depression which are common in somatic symptom disorders.

If one medicine isn’t working for you, he may suggest changing to another or a combination of medications to improve efficacy. Bear in mind that noticing a symptomatic improvement can take many weeks after starting a drug. Discuss your prescription options with your doctor, as well as the potential side effects and hazards.

Psychosocial Intervention

Because they see their sickness as a medical condition, patients may refuse recommendations for personal or group psychotherapy. Patients who undergo psychotherapy could be able to cut down on their healthcare costs. Psychosocial therapies aimed at preserving social and vocational function in the face of persistent medical complaints could be beneficial. Emotion perception problems have been connected to somatic symptom abnormalities, which may lead to the emergence of medically complex and unexplained physical ailments. As a result, emotion modulation may become a key focus for psychotherapy approaches to treating somatic symptom problems.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been found in studies to lessen depression symptoms in persons with somatic disorders. This sort of treatment is particularly beneficial for those who fulfill a specific threshold for a depressive condition. Cognitive-behavioral therapy outperformed control groups, with much greater effects in groups consisting solely of people suffering from depression.

Home Remedies And A Healthy Lifestyle

While professional therapy for somatic symptom disorder is recommended, you can take certain lifestyle and self-care activities to help yourself, such as:

  • Cooperate with your healthcare providers. Establish a regular schedule for appointments with your healthcare provider and mental wellbeing expert to address your issues and create a trustworthy connection. Set realistic limitations on tests, assessments, and expert referrals as well. Avoid seeking counsel from various doctors and specialists or going to the emergency room, as this can make it much more difficult to coordinate and organize your care and may result in repeated testing.
  • Use stress-reduction and relaxation practices. Practicing stress management and relaxation strategies like muscle relaxation techniques can assist to alleviate symptoms.
  • Engage in some physical activity. Gradually increasing your exercise level can help you relax, ease your physical symptoms, and enhance your functional ability.
  • Take part in activities. Maintain your involvement in your job, as well as your social and family interests. Don’t put off participating until your symptoms have subsided.
  • Recreational drugs including drugs should be avoided. Substance abuse can make it more difficult for you to receive treatment. If you need assistance quitting, talk to your doctor.

Individuals dealing with somatic symptom disorder benefit greatly from residential and inpatient treatment. As the prevalence of somatic symptom disorder has grown, so has the necessity for therapy. Enrolment in a rehab institution that focuses on mental health care is known as inpatient treatment. In addition to high standard amenities like a 5-star resort including spa treatments, massage, private rooms, and scenic surroundings, alternative therapies like yoga, mindfulness, meditation, acupuncture, gourmet chef-prepared meals, and fitness centers, a premium luxury inpatient rehab center offers high-end mental illness treatment.

The function of a high-end luxury mental health residential treatment facility has altered dramatically since its inception. Historically, mental institutions were created exclusively to separate those suffering from mental illnesses from the rest of society, which was considered “normal.”

  • People must first heal in order to contribute to society and, more significantly, to live a happy and independent life. A high-end residential institution offers a variety of mental health therapies to assist relieve pain and improving mental health. The following are some of them:
  •  Individual and group therapy are both available.
  • Medication Management (prescribed medications)
  • Knowing how to cope with and enhance your skills in order to better manage your harmful somatic symptom is essential.
  • Relapse prevention.

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