Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD), also known as Psychosomatic Symptom Disorder, is a serious mental illness. This illness includes both the mind and the body, where the person will think their physical symptoms are worse than they are because of mental factors.
This is someone who will automatically think the worst of their illness or perceived symptoms and will seek medical care regularly. In this article, we will go into depth about SSD, different types of the disorder, signs and symptoms, and ways to get help. Read on to learn more.
What Somatic Symptom Disorder Is
As said above, SSD is an illness that causes a person to have persistent physical complaints that stem from maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. However, the symptoms are not intentionally produced and may or may not come with a known medical illness.
Previous somatic disorders that are now considered under SSD are:
- Somatization disorder
- Undifferentiated somatoform disorder
- Somatoform pain disorder
These all have features that are common which include somatization – mental phenomena as physical symptoms.
There are four major forms of psychosomatic disorders. These are disorders rooted in the psychological instead of physical causes. They often resemble symptoms of a medical illness and these people may undergo extensive medical evaluations to find out the cause of their symptoms.
Sadly, people who have somatoform disorders, or show symptoms, are usually at risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. As well, they are at higher risk of developing major depressive disorder or clinical depression.
This is a mental illness that causes a person to think either minor symptoms or even usual body functions are related to a serious medical condition. An example of this would be a person with hypochondriasis thinking that a simple headache is a brain tumor. Symptoms of this disorder can include, but not limited to:
- Thinking a doctor is making a mistake by not diagnosing the cause of the symptoms
- Numerous visits to the doctor until a diagnosis is made
- Needing constant reassurance from both family and friends about the symptoms they are experiencing
Conversion disorder symptoms usually show themselves in the way of neurological issues. These can include:
- Double vision
- Difficulties swallowing
- Loss of sensation
- Impaired coordination
- Inability to speak
- Urinary retention
Somatization disorder presents as physical symptoms without a physical cause. Some symptoms shown in somatization disorder are:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain during a woman’s period
- Shortness of breath
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Many somatoform disorders interrupt a person’s everyday life from school to work to their social life. Body dysmorphic disorder is when someone perceives minor flaws in their physical appearance as something that everyone can see. They may even think there are flaws when there aren’t any.
Common concerns people with body dysmorphic disorder focus on is hair loss, weight gain or loss, the size and shape of body features (nose, eyes, breast size), and wrinkles. The following are symptoms of body dysmorphic disorders as well as associated behaviors:
- Depression and anxiety
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Needing reassurance from an outside perspective about their appearance
- Avoiding mirrors
- On the other hand, constantly checking appearance in the mirror
- Avoiding being seen in public
Signs and Symptoms
Along with the above, SSD comes with its own symptoms and signs to look for in a person. Due to the nature of this disorder, and its constant symptoms, it can cause great distress in a person’s life which can cause them to become depressed.
When a person has SSD and another medical (physical) condition, this person will overreact to the implications of the physical condition. As well, if they are showing symptoms of a physical medical disorder, they will worry excessively about said symptoms and catastrophize them.
Physical complaints in this disorder will usually start before the age of 30, and will usually become an all-consuming part of a person’s life. This person may become dependent on others for help and emotional support. They may also go from one doctor to another if they feel they aren’t receiving the help they believe they need.
Unfortunately, it is unclear at this time what the exact cause of SSD is, but from research, it seems to be associated with:
- Difficulty dealing with stress
- Low emotional awareness – meaning you focus more on physical issues
- Genetic traits
- A personality that involves more negative emotions and poor self-image
- Knowing that they can get attention from having an illness – a learned behavior
Many people are able to form SSD, but researchers have shown that people who have the following may be at more risk for having SSD:
- Anxiety disorder
- Having been diagnosed with a major medical condition, or recovering from one (i.e. cancer)
- Being at higher risk to develop a serious medical condition through genetics
- Previous traumatic experiences
The diagnosis of SSD can be hard, but it is not impossible. Before looking in this direction, the doctor will do a thorough physical exam to make sure there are no physical symptoms. If the patient goes to the same doctor, the doctor may already be inclined to thinking the person has SSD from previous visits.
After this, upon not finding any physical conditions, the person will then be referred to a mental health professional like those at SoCal Empowered. From there, the doctor will ask multiple questions like the following:
- What are your symptoms? How long have you had them?
- Your family history
- The sources of your stress
- If you have any history of substance abuse
As well as asking the person questions, the doctor may also give them a questionnaire to fill out about the person’s lifestyle and symptoms. A diagnosis of SSD usually comes when the following is presented:
- one or more physical symptoms causing distress or interference in your everyday life
- having excessive and endless thoughts on your symptoms, how serious they are, causing you to give too much energy and time to evaluating your health
- experiencing symptoms for six months or longer, even if they change over time.
The mental health professional will help you with how you think about your symptoms rather than the actual symptoms themselves.
The treatment of SSD is usually a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves identifying negative and irrational thought patterns and resulting behaviors. By addressing the thought patterns, this eventually starts to change the behaviors that accompany them.
Along with cognitive behavior therapy, the person will also learn different coping mechanisms to have for day-to-day life.
Antidepressant medications have also been proven to help with SSD as they will reduce anxiety. They work best when combined with psychotherapy.
Having Somatic Symptom Disorder can be scary, as well as overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be when you get the right help. Hopefully, from reading the above, you get a good idea of what SSD is, and how to spot it in yourself or a loved one.
If you think you, or a loved one, suffers from SSD then you shouldn’t waste any time getting help as that may cause more damage. Know you are not alone in your struggles. Contact the professionals at Socal Empowered today to start your healing process.