Somatic Symptom Disorder

What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?

Individuals who have somatic symptom disorder are preoccupied with their health problems and they exhibit extreme reactions when they have pain or other physical symptoms. Individuals who have this mental health disorder actually do have physical symptoms, but this obsession disrupts their life.

The reasons why some people have this disorder is not completely known, but there seems to be several contributing factors. These include genetics, a negative personality, an influence of family and learned behaviors. These individuals are so concerned with their physical symptoms that they do not consider the psychological issues at hand.

What are the Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder?

The physical symptoms that individuals may have include pain, tiredness and feeling short of breath. Some people have slight physical symptoms while others experience more intense symptoms. Individuals who are diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder have extreme emotional reactions for at least six months.

These psychological symptoms include visiting doctors for a myriad of tests and medical procedures, believing that doctors are not treating their illness, spending an exorbitant amount of time worrying about their medical issues and thinking that they have a major health problem. Individuals with this disorder also have problems performing daily activities because they are constantly thinking about their physical symptoms and their health.

Somatic Symptom Disorder Causes

It is not completely clear why some people suffer from somatic symptom disorder (SSD), but it is thought there are several factors at play. Many people with the disorder have a negative outlook on life or a pessimistic personality, and they may also be particularly sensitive to pain and other sensations.

It is thought that SSD could have a genetic factor; those with a family member with the disorder are more likely to develop it themselves. However, an individual’s upbringing could also be a cause, which makes it unclear how much of the disorder is down to genetics, and how much is down to environment. For example, someone who has a parent with SSD could learn the anxious behaviors around physical symptoms from them, or there could be something in their genetic makeup which makes them more vulnerable to it. Alternatively, it might be a combination of both of these factors.

It’s also known that people who have experienced physical or sexual abuse are more likely to develop SSD. However, not everyone that has the condition has a history of abuse.

How is Somatic Symptom Disorder Treated?

Treating this disorder consists of lessening the physical symptoms and receiving behavioral therapy for the psychological symptoms. During therapy sessions, individuals will discover how to deal with their symptoms, how to minimize stress and how to control obsessive thoughts about their health issues.

Individuals will learn steps to take so they can begin resuming their daily activities. Therapists may recommend therapy sessions for the individual’s family so they can provide better support for their loved one. Physicians may also prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, to help reduce the psychological symptoms of individuals who have somatic symptom disorder.

Somatic Symptom Disorder Prevention

Since the cause of SSD is not fully understood, it is not usually possible to prevent it. However, those who are more vulnerable to the condition due to family history or a history of abuse could benefit from undergoing therapy.

Talking therapies might be able to help individuals to identify aspects of their behavior which could point towards symptoms of SSD. It could also help them to come to terms with past trauma, particularly in the case of physical or sexual abuse, and processing it in a healthy way to reduce the risk of SSD.

Individuals with a parent or other close relative with SSD may benefit from talking therapies to help them understand their relative’s condition. This might help them to recognize symptoms in themselves in future in order that they can seek out treatment as soon as possible.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 20, 2017