Psychosomatic Disorders


Usually, psychosomatic disorders refer to diseases that are mainly caused by psychological factors. However, many professionals in the health field agree that such disorders are caused by the combination of biological, environmental, social, and psychological circumstances, all of which can influence any disease.

Psychosomatic disorders involve the relationship between the mind (psycho) and the body (somatic). There is much controversy among health professionals when they discuss the causes of these disorders. Many ask if there is a disease that does not present an interaction of organic and psychological factors. Nevertheless, some do agree that a significant number of people are experiencing psychosomatic disorders and fail to identify what the problem is or where to go to seek treatment.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-R), somatization disorder (one of the disorders found under the umbrella of “somatoform disorders”) affects between 0.2% and 2.0% of women and fewer than 0.2% of men. The DSM-IV-R defines this disorder as “a pattern of recurring, multiple, clinically significant somatic complaints. A somatic complaint is considered to be clinically significant if it results in the medical treatment (e.g., the taking of medications) or causes significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The multiple somatic complaints cannot be fully explained by any known general medical condition or the direct effects of a substance.” In other words, patients complain of physical symptoms that have no identifiable physical origin. Usually after many tests and medical evaluations, clinicians cannot explain the reason for the symptoms.

Experiencing somatic symptoms or any irregularity in the body is normal. According to Dr. Hector Zegarra, approximately 75% of healthy adults have some type of physical discomfort during the course of a week. This may be due to physiological conditions such as breathing or circulation or to changes in diet or even environmental factors (e.g., heat or extreme cold). However, when people extend their bodily sensations and worry in an exaggerated manner about a perceived serious deterioration in their health, they firmly believe they are sick and thus increase their level of anxiety and nervousness.

The exact cause of somatization disorder is unknown, but it is important to not confuse it with Munchausen Syndrome. People with this latter disorder consciously simulate symptoms of physical illness. They fake the disease and go to the hospital to seek treatment, knowing that they do not have a problem.

Treatment for people with somatization disorder is not easy. Most of the time they reject any psychological treatment because they strongly deny the connection of their symptoms with a mental health problem. However, certain interventions can help these individuals learn to manage stress, which can help reduce the severity of their symptoms. In addition, relaxation techniques and other tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help them modify their thoughts and behaviors. A combination of individual therapy and medications may improve their health.

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