A somatoform disorder is a cluster of psychological conditions where an individual develops physical symptoms without medical reasons. The constant portrayal of these symptoms without an apparent medical reason can often lead to anxiety. Most of these people also disregard the possibility that a psychological issue might trigger their problems.
Suffering from a somatoform disorder can be highly suffocating and perplexing for many; however, many treatment modalities are now available to eradicate the problem. Most of these treatment plans aim to enhance an individual’s daily functioning by mitigating physical symptoms, reducing stress levels, and improving overall functioning.
Popularly known as somatisation disorder or somatic symptom disorder, a somatoform disease is a recognised mental health issue worldwide. It causes one or more complaints in the body that may or may not have a clear mental or physical health source. Some of these commonly reported complaints include unexplained fatigue, pain, or neurological problems.
These medically unexplained symptoms associated with a somatoform disorder may linger on for an extended period, often leading to severe emotional stress. These perceived physical symptoms can also cause problems with functioning in everyday life. As a result, many people suffering from it frequently seek medical care for their complaints, believing that these symptoms indicate a severe medical condition even when many have already been ruled out. This ongoing occupation with the symptoms can leave them worrying about their health, sometimes to the extent that focusing on other aspects of life, such as relationships and careers, becomes impossible.
If you or someone around is displaying somatic disorder symptoms, help is available throughout the UK through specialised rehabs providing individually tailored treatment programmes. Experts specifically design these programmes to enable people with somatoform disorders to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
It is impossible to get help for somatoform pain disorder unless you can identify it. For this reason, it is critical to familiarise yourself with the most common somatic disorder symptoms mentioned below:
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or fatigue
The physical symptoms mentioned above may be mild to severe in intensity and can occur independently or together. They might be due to a medical condition or without a clear cause. How people feel, think, and behave in response to these physical symptoms can also aid in establishing the diagnosis of a somatic symptom disorder. People with this diagnosis may:
- Feel concerned that their mild physical symptoms are due to a severe underlying condition
- Feel anxious about their physical symptoms all the time
- Schedule multiple appointments with their healthcare providers and insist on undergoing various diagnostic exams and tests but do not believe the results
- Switch from one doctor to another or seek treatment from multiple healthcare providers at once
- Feel that their doctor is not taking their physical symptoms seriously enough
- Face troubles functioning daily because of the intrusive thoughts, behaviours, and feelings about their physical sympotms
- Become dependent on others, demand emotional support, and show anger when their needs are not met
- Spend a lot of time and energy trying to deal with their health concerns
- Seem unusually sensitive to the side effects of drugs
Around 30 to 60 per cent of people with an underlying somatoform disorder also suffer from a coexisting depression and anxiety.
Even though pharmacological interventions alone may not be effective enough in managing somatoform disorders, they might be helpful in the treatment of concurring anxiety or depression. Most rehabilitation centres offering treatment services for somatoform disorders usually pair them with complementary therapy to improve the outcomes. Some of these commonly used interventions include:
Many experts include antidepressant medication as a part of a broader treatment plan for somatisation disorders. These medications work indirectly on these disorders by easing the symptoms of co-occurring depression and anxiety. With these co-occurring mental issues in control, recovery becomes more manageable.
Psychodynamic therapy aims to help patients gain insights into any emotional issues they might not be aware of. By doing so, this therapy helps them understand the underlying psychological causes of pain and physical distress that they are experiencing on a day-to-day basis.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular therapies to manage different psychiatric issues. Experts deem it partially effective in treating somatoform disorders, though additional research is still needed. CBT works by helping patients reduce their fixation on their health and physical symptoms. Moreover, it also involves teaching them different coping skills and stress reduction techniques to manage the physical symptoms and the emotional reactions associated with them in a healthy way.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that aims to facilitate people to process their traumas. A typical session of EMDR allows the individual to recall the disturbing images and memories, and the therapist stimulates eye movements. The therapy has been beneficial in reducing the symptoms related to somatisation disorder, primarily when they are associated with a traumatic event.
Even though most symptoms of a somatoform disorder respond well to psychotherapy, alternative therapies are also available for a more comprehensive recovery. These therapies may vary from one rehab to another but most commonly include stress management, regular physical activity, relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy, socialising opportunities, and more.
Mentioned below are some of the commonly used alternative therapies for somatoform pain disorder:
Hypnotherapy provides a person with insight into their unconscious mind and can be helpful in treating somatoform disorders. Most experts use it in conjunction with other pharmacological interventions for faster recovery.
Relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation, are incredibly effective at managing anxiety and worry, and they can lower high-stress levels and quieten racing thoughts. Clients who participate in these techniques can better accept the feelings and emotions related to their somatic symptoms and understand that these symptoms do not necessarily need to impact their mental health negatively.
Somatic experiencing is an alternative therapy that aims to relieve symptoms related to physical and mental health issues, including trauma. It allows people to perceive sensations in the body and use self-regulatory techniques to release physical tension.
For many people, somatoform disorders frequently co-occur with other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. They may also co-exist with substance abuse as the afflicted individuals may resort to using drugs or alcohol to cope with a lack of explanation for their symptoms. The association of somatoform disorders with co-occurring disorders is a two-way process, with the former leading to the latter or vice versa.
To achieve the best treatment outcomes in such people, a somatoform disorder treatment program must simultaneously address all co-occurring issues. The treatment must also emphasise all isolating symptoms for every condition and minimise interactions between them that could potentially impede progress otherwise.
If you believe that you or someone you love suffers from a somatoform disorder, with or without a co-occurring issue, help is available. Multiple rehabilitation centres are working from all across the UK that can help you find the proper treatment for complete recovery and healthier life.
What causes somatoform disorders?
Multiple factors can lead to somatoform disorders in different individuals. One standard therapy is that these issues are a defence against psychological distress. Problems like depression or anxiety can be seen as unfavourable due to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, so such individuals may alternatively receive medical assistance for physical symptoms to receive the psychiatric care they need.
An alternative theory explains that people with somatisation issues have a heightened awareness of physical sensations. As a result, they are keenly aware of even the minor discomforts that most people easily ignore. A third possible cause leading to somatoform pain disorder is the pattern of catastrophic thinking about physiological sensations, i.e. experiencing extreme fear in response to normal bodily sensations.
Who is at risk of developing a somatoform disorder?
Evidence suggests that people with a history of the following issues are more likely to develop a somatic symptom disorder:
Alcohol use disorder
Substance use disorder
Heightened attention to sensations
Sexual or physical abuse
Neglect during childhood
Chronic illness during childhood
Presence of specific personality disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, or avoidant personality disorder
Presence of other psychiatric issues, such as depression or anxiety
Who does somatisation disorder affect the most?
Somatisation disorder can affect children, adolescents and adults, and for most adults, it usually begins by age 30. Research suggests that those assigned females at birth are up to tenfold more likely to develop this psychiatric issue than those assigned males at birth.
What is the prognosis for somatisation issues?
The severity of somatoform disorder symptoms tends to fluctuate over time, especially if left untreated. Multiple treatment options are available that involve a combination of medication with therapy. Therapies like CBT enable people to identify negative thoughts or behaviours that contribute to physiological symptoms and help them devise strategies to overcome their fears about physical sensations. Complete recovery is possible with adequate treatment and support from family, friends, and experts.
What is the prognosis foIs somatic symptom disorder the same as conversion disorder?
No, despite the similarities, both issues are entirely different. Conversion disorder refers to a condition that involves symptoms related to the nervous system functioning without any evidence of any neurological or physical cause. Such a disorder usually affects your sensation, perception, or mobility and may include symptoms like paralysis or blindness. Excessive worrying or distressing about these physical symptoms is usually not a part of the diagnosis for conversion disorders. On the other hand, somatic symptom disorder involves unexplained physical symptoms and excessive concern about them as a central part of the diagnosis.
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