When psychological or emotional discomfort manifests itself in the form of physical symptoms that may/may not be medically inexplicable, somatization is said to be present. Physical diseases can be severe, but somatic symptom disorder can be just as bad. Patients with somatization whose doctors mistakenly believe they have a biologic illness might be harmed by needless testing and treatment.
This article provides insight into causes, risk factors, prevalence and treatment for Somatic Symptom Disorder.
What is Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD)?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, has recently recognised somatic symptom disorder (SSD) as a new diagnosis. It occurs when one or more physical symptoms are followed by excessive thoughts, emotion, and/or behaviour connected to the symptom, resulting in substantial distress and/or dysfunction. A medical problem may or may not be to blame for these symptoms. Patients, their families, and their doctors are distressed by disorders such as somatic symptom disorder. It’s not only widespread but its boundaries with anxiety and depression are permeable. A number of future research issues has been outlined by participants in the work group that created the somatic symptom disorder criteria, that the diagnosis would need to address.
What are the causes?
Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) has an unclear pathophysiology. Patients with SSD may have tachycardia, stomach hypermotility, heightened alertness, muscle tension, and discomfort associated with muscular hyperactivity as a result of autonomic arousal from endogenous noradrenergic chemicals. There might be a hereditary component as well. The proportion of hereditary variables to somatic symptoms ranged from 7% to 21% in a study of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, with the rest attributed to environmental factors. Another study linked many single nucleotide polymorphisms to somatic symptoms.
How does Somatic symptom disorder affect people?
Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is characterised by an increased awareness of diverse physiological sensations, as well as a proclivity to identify these experiences as signs of disease. While the cause of SSD is unknown, research have looked into risk factors such as busy life schedule, sexual assault, childhood abandonment, and a history of substance abuse. Axis II personality disorders, such as paranoid, avoidant, self-defeating, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, have also been linked to significant somatization. Unemployment and decreased work ability have also been linked to psychosocial stresses.
It affects 5% to 7% of the public at large, with a three to ten times more common among females than males, and can strike at any age (childhood, adolescence, or adulthood). The incidence rises to around 17% of primary care patients. Certain patient groups with functional diseases, such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome, are likely to have a greater prevalence.
Treatment for somatization disorder has long been thought to be incredibly challenging, and health providers often feel unsure and frustrated when working with these patients. However, research in the last decade has begun to demonstrate that a combination of medical care and cognitive-behavioral therapies may be highly beneficial.
One fairly effective treatment is to find a single physician who will coordinate the patient's care by seeing him or her on a frequent basis and performing physical exams that focus on new concerns. At the same time, the doctor avoids needless diagnostic tests and uses drugs or other treatments sparingly (Looper & Kirmayer, 2002; Mai, 2004). When paired with cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on developing acceptable conduct, such as greater coping and personal adjustment, while discouraging improper behaviour, such as disease behaviour and concern with physical symptoms, this can be even more beneficial (e.g., Bleichhardt et al., 2004; Mai, 2004).
Whether the symptom pathophysiology is clearly apparent or opaque, how somatic symptoms are perceived and expressed is at the heart of psychosomatic medicine. Understanding somatization is a continuous endeavour filled with difficulties, hurdles, and gradual progress, as history has shown. As can be seen, progress is being made, and new technology and study ideas will continue to advance this subject.
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A friendly reminder: We've done our research, but you should too! Check our sources against your own and always exercise sound judgment.
https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/69 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5675784/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016049/ Butcher, J. N., Mineka, S., Hooley, J. M. (2013). Abnormal Psychology. Pearson. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/0101/p49.html
About the Author
Content Writer for The Hope Project (Delhi, India)
Ishika Jain is a student of Psychology honors from the University of Delhi, armed with hands-on knowledge in research, public health, and health tech. She has worked in the field of global mental health, community research, and intervention, assisting in science communication and research writing. She has a keen interest in Neuropsychology, with a blend of neuroscience, philosophy, and interpersonal contact.