Introduction: Somatic Symptoms
What if you have pain in your body? You probably go to a doctor for medical tests and cure it. Now what if you do not have a medical condition diagnosed for the pain? Your whole time gets devoted to find relief from the jarring pain. That jarring pain has a name in psychology: Somatic Symptoms.
Somatic Symptoms is the umbrella term under which many disorders come. The term somatic has roots in Greek word ‘Soma’ which means body. Unsurprisingly, in this disorder people experience symptoms which are concerned around a physical problem or medical condition.
Interestingly, even though people experience physical pain in this disorder, they take medical as well as psychological help. This is because along with relief from physical pain, patients are trying to treat their distressing thoughts, feelings and behaviors that come along with physical pain.
Even though somatic symptoms are relatively rare, they may account for as much as 23 percent of the medically inexplicable symptoms. Such patients are seeking medical help to lower their physical pain but might have a somatic symptom as diagnosis (Steinbrecher, Koerber, Frieser and Hiller, 2011).
In this article, the topics covered are as followed
Disorders under somatic symptoms:
- Somatic symptom disorder
- Illness anxiety disorder
- Conversion Disorder (Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder)
Disorders under somatic symptoms:
1. Somatic symptom disorder
As the name suggests, in this disorder people have prominent physical symptoms that may or may not have a diagnosable medical condition. The prominent characteristic of this disorder is that the patient’s life is disrupted by these symptoms. The patient’s whole time and energy gets devoted in being concerned about the symptoms.
It is seen in research that this disorder is present, higher than expected frequency, in patients who are seeking treatment of chronic pain (Reme, Tangen, Moe and Eriksen, 2011). In small number of cases, symptoms do have a diagnosed medical condition. In that case, patient’s complaints about the symptoms are far more excessive than what we normally associate with the medical condition. The amount and nature of pain does not match with the pain of the symptoms of the diagnosed medical condition.
It is noteworthy to know that the patients are not faking their symptoms and are not making up their symptoms intentionally. The patients are just not aware that they are unconsciously showing their psychological problems physically.
Often, the physical symptoms may manifest because the person has difficulties processing emotions and the patients focus on physical symptoms rather than emotional health. Other causes may be genetic or environmental.
The patient’s lives are significantly impaired due to this disorder. Often, their whole life is centered on finding relief from their painful symptoms. This leads them spending huge amount of time, energy and money in pursuit of relief.
Patient’s often experience hopelessness, suicidal tendencies and feel that their body has a major unaccountable medical illness. The patient takes psychological help to lower their anxiety around maladaptive thoughts, feelings and behavior about symptoms.
Some examples of somatic symptoms are digestive symptoms such as stomach ache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, incontinence; sexual symptoms such as pain during sexual intercourse, painful menstruation; neurological symptoms such as headaches, dizzying, fainting.
2. Illness anxiety disorder
People with Illness anxiety disorder have a heightened awareness to normal body cues and functions. Here, the person neither experiences real pain symptoms nor fake the symptoms to the people. The person’s focus are not the symptoms themselves, rather they think that the symptoms are indicators of a major illness.
The patient spends considerable time, energy and money seeking medical tests and procedures. The patients do this to rule out diagnosis of any medical illness they think they would possibly have. The disorder has been formally named as ‘hypochondriasis’.
3. Conversion Disorder (Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder)
In this disorder, the patient experiences a change in function of a body part which is not due to medical condition. The patient here experiences ‘conversion’ that is a psychological conflict transfers to physical symptoms. The patient here typically shows symptoms which are motor-sensory in nature. Therefore, the bodily function which might get affected are voluntary muscles and are those which are related to central nervous system i.e. brain and spinal cord. As understood, the symptoms must be ruled out of a medical condition and neurological condition.
The physical symptoms here too are neither faked nor made up by the patient. In normal cases, the disturbed voluntary function should show its corroborative neurological damage. The interesting thing is it does not. Rather, the patient believes that there are some neurological problems with him or her.The examples of conversion disorder are motor tics, difficulties in swallowing, blindness, paralysis, psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES), difficulty in walking, losing ability to talk.
Here too, the patient’s life is impaired by his symptoms. Interestingly, a major emotional trauma often results in conversion disorder such as depression, sexual abuse or extreme stress. The patient needs assistance in carrying out his daily routine.
The most vulnerable people for these disorders are generally in age group 10 to 35. People with less education and women are more susceptible to conversion disorder. But conversion disorder is a generally rare phenomenon affecting 1 to 3 percent of those referred for mental health care.
To understand the difference between the three disorders, here are some aspects highlighted:
The post ends here.
Article Image credit-Table: Mehal Sampat
Thumbnail credit: Unsplash/ Usman Yousaf