Please take a look at the following article and read it with an open mind...and when you're done ask yourself some tough questions...you know the ones...questions like...do you doctor shop? are you overly concerned despite medical reassurances you're fine? do you tell yourself and others your doctor doesn't know what he/she is talking about? does this reflect your life? (just a few to get you started)
I'm not sharing this to point fingers or to put anyone down...I am hoping however to open the lines of communication and understanding. If you notice yourself or even someone you love in this article...share it and start the conversation.
This information is not meant to take the place of direct medical care and is provided for your personal use and entertainment only. If you do have questions about what you read here please speak to a qualified medical professional.
YOU are more than your diagnosis.
Somatic symptom disorder can happen at any time of life, but most often begins in early adulthood. It affects men and women equally.
What Are the Features of Somatic Symptom Disorder?
People with somatic symptom disorder -- commonly called hypochondriacs -- are worried about having a physical illness. The symptoms they describe can range from general complaints, such as pain or tiredness, to concerns about normal body functions, such as breathing or stomach noises. People with somatic symptom disorder are not faking or lying about their symptoms; they truly believe they are sick.
Warning signs that a person might have somatic symptom disorder include:
- The person has a history of going to many doctors. He or she may even "shop around" for a doctor who will agree that he or she has a serious illness.
- The person recently experienced a loss or stressful event.
- The person is overly concerned about a specific organ or body system, such as the heart or the digestive system.
- The person's symptoms or area of concern might shift or change.
- A doctor's reassurance does not calm the person's fears; he or she believes the doctor is wrong or made a mistake.
- The person's concern about illness interferes with his or her work, family, and social life.
- The person may suffer from anxiety, nervousness, and/or depression.
What Causes Somatic Symptom Disorder?
The exact cause of somatic symptom disorder is not known. Factors that might be involved in the development of the disorder include:
- A history of physical or sexual abuse
- A history of having a serious illness as a child
- A poor ability to express emotions
- A parent or close relative with the disorder; children might learn this behavior if a parent is overly concerned about disease and/or overreacts to even minor illnesses
- An inherited susceptibility for the disorder
How Is Somatic Symptom Disorder Diagnosed?
Diagnosing somatic symptom disorder can be very difficult, because people with the disorder are convinced their symptoms are caused by a medical illness.
When symptoms appear, the doctor will begin his or her evaluation with a complete history and physical exam. If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, he or she might refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. The psychiatrist or psychologist makes a diagnosis based on his or her assessment of the person's attitude and behavior, and the fact that physical illness has been ruled out as the cause of the symptoms. The psychiatrist or psychologist may administer a personality assessment to confirm the diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder.
How Is Somatic Symptom Disorder Treated?
A main goal of somatic symptom disorder treatment is to help patients live and function as normally as possible, even if they continue to have symptoms. Treatment also aims to alter the thinking and behavior that leads to the symptoms.
The disorder can be very difficult to treat. This is due, in part, to the fact that people who have it refuse to believe their symptoms are the result of mental or emotional rather than physical causes.
Treatment for somatic symptom disorder most often includes a combination of the following options:
Supportive care: In most cases, the best course of action is for the person to stay in regular contact with a trusted health care provider. Within this doctor-patient relationship, the doctor can monitor the symptoms and stay alert to any changes that might signal a real medical illness. The doctor's main approach is likely to focus on reassuring and supporting the person, and preventing unnecessary tests and treatments. It might be necessary, however, to treat some of the symptoms, such as severe pain.
Medications: Antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs are sometimes used if a person with somatic symptom disorder also has a mood disorder or anxiety disorder.
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling), particularly cognitive therapy, can be helpful in changing the thinking and behavior that contribute to the symptoms. Therapy also can help the person learn better ways to deal with stress, and improve his or her social and work functioning. Unfortunately, most people with somatic symptom disorder deny there are any mental or emotional problems, making them fairly resistant to psychotherapy.
What Complications Are Associated With Somatic Symptom Disorder?
A person with somatic symptom disorder is at risk for repeated episodes of symptoms. He or she also might suffer from reactions or health problems related to multiple tests, procedures, and treatments. In addition to the pain and frustration this disorder often causes to the person and his or her family, repeated episodes also can lead to unnecessary and risky procedures, as well as high medical bills and trouble functioning in daily life. Further, genuine medical problems can be missed in a person with a long history of having tests with negative results, because doctors may assume the person's complaint is caused by a psychiatric problem, rather than a real physical illness.
What Is the Outlook for People With Somatic Symptom Disorder?
This disorder tends to be a chronic (long-term) condition that can last for years. In many cases, symptoms can recur. Only a small percentage of patients recover completely. For that reason, the focus of treatment is on learning to manage and control symptoms, and on minimizing functional problems associated with the disorder.
Can Somatic Symptom Disorder Be Prevented?
There is no known way to prevent somatic symptom disorder. However, providing the person with an understanding and supportive environment might help decrease the severity of the symptoms and help him or her better cope with the disorder.
WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on July 08, 2014
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