Somatic Symptom Disorders are a group of mental health disorders that involve emotional pain being expressed as physical symptoms, which cause significant distress.

While the majority of mental health disorders are characterised by psychological symptoms such as intrusive thoughts or low mood, Somatic disorders instead see emotional pain expressed as physical symptoms. This process is known as Somatization – giving this group of disorders their name.

There are a few different types of Somatic Symptom Disorders, with the symptoms of this each disorder varying. In all cases, with the right treatment, support and lifestyle, recovery is possible.

Somatic Disorders

Types of Somatic Disorders

There are five different types of Somatic Disorders. It is useful for patients to know what the exact type of disorder they suffer from is. This allows their treatment to be tailored to their needs.

Somatic Symptom Disorder: Somatic Symptom Disorder is a condition that involves bodily symptoms such as pain and fatigue. These symptoms however aren’t traceable to a physical cause, and are not attributable to a general health condition. Yet the pain is present, and causes significant distress – leading to functional impairment. This disorder often runs comorbidly with an Anxiety disorder.

Conversion Disorder: Conversion Disorder (also known as Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder) is a condition that involves physical symptoms resembling a nervous system disorder developing. However, no nervous system disorder is present. The pain thus appears as a result of somatisation – with emotional pain being expressed as physical symptoms. Typical symptoms include paralysis, blindness, numbness or convulsions.

Factitious Disorder (Munchausen’s Syndrome): Factitious Disorder is a condition characterised by a person acting as if they or someone in their care has a physical or mental illness. The individual actively feigns their symptoms, or fabricate illnesses in those under their care. The person won’t act in this way for monetary gain, instead they will have an innate need to be viewed as ill, and to attain the role of patient. Someone with this disorder often has a history of abuse.

Illness Anxiety Disorder: Illness Anxiety Disorder is a condition characterised by an individual excessively worrying about having a serious illness. The person will typically believe any symptoms, however minor, are a sign of a serious illness. Even after a Doctor has told the person that no illness is present, they persist in their belief. Someone with this disorder will often see their worrying take over their life. Their high level of anxiety causes significant impairment in multiple contexts.

Psychological Factors Affecting Other Medical Conditions: This condition is diagnosed when an individual’s behaviour, attitude or actions have a negative impact on a medical health disorder that the individual has. For instance, someone may ignore a treatment plan, refuse to undergo tests, or dismiss any symptoms as not being present. Someone with this disorder will risk exacerbating their illness, and risks permanent injury or even death. Anxiety and stress are common factors involved.

These symptoms will typically lead to an impact on an individual. They all cause distress, and will normally impair the life of the individual involved. The life of an individual with a Somatic Disorder is typically affected in multiple ways.

Read More: What Are The Types of Somatic Disorders? [Construction]

Symptoms of Somatic Disorders

The symptoms of each type of Somatic Disorder vary considerably. A brief summary of the signs and symptoms of each condition are provided below:

Somatic Symptom Disorder:

  • Pain in any area of the body, fatigue, nausea or sexual problems.
  • Extreme preoccupation with symptoms, believing they are severe

Conversion Disorder:

  • Emotional pain manifests as physical symptoms – primarily affecting sense or movement
  • Typical symptoms include blindness, deafness, paralysis, numbness, convulsions, inability to speak, walk or smell

Factitious Disorder (Munchausen’s Syndrome):

  • Individual feigns symptoms of an illness in themselves or fabricates an illness in someone else
  • May crave attention, sympathy or reassurance, and will be manipulative and intelligent

Illness Anxiety Disorder:

  • Constant worry about overall health, and often checking the body for any sign of illness
  • Wanting regular reassurance from others that symptoms aren’t serious

Psychological Factors Affecting Other Medical Conditions:

  • Individual acts in a way that causes a medical condition to worsen
  • They may ignore the fact that a medical illness is present, or deny the severity of the condition involved

These symptoms will typically lead to an impact on an individual. They all cause distress, and will normally impair the life of the individual involved. The life of an individual with a Somatic Disorder is typically affected in multiple ways.

Read More: What Are The Symptoms of Somatic Disorders? [Construction]

Causes of Somatic Disorders

Somatic Disorders are complex conditions. It isn’t clear why some people exhibit emotional pain as physical pain – which seems to defy logic.

While the causes of the various disorders aren’t entirely known, certain risk factors and triggers appear to be involved.

Again, possible causes are vary from disorder to disorder, a brief overview of each condition is included below. For further details, you can see the full list at the article below [construction].

Somatic Symptom Disorder

  • Upbringing
  • Genetics
  • Approaching Age of Parents Death

Conversion Disorder

  • Emotional Trauma
  • Genetics

Factitious Disorder

  • Childhood Abuse
  • Underlying Personality Disorder
  • Genetics

Illness Anxiety Disorder

  • Stress
  • Overprotective Parents
  • Genetics

Psychological Factors Affecting Other Medical Conditions:

  • Anxiety or Stress
  • Lack of emotional support
  • Low mood

It appears that in most cases, a combination of factors result in the onset of a Somatic Disorder. Certain risk factors and triggers do seem to exist, though as mentioned earlier, the exact cause isn’t entirely known.

Read More: What Are The Causes of Somatic Disorders? [Construction]

Diagnosis of Somatic Disorders

Some Somatic Disorders can be diagnosed through medical examinations. In some cases, these disorders are diagnosed after a process of elimination.

But some of the disorders can be difficult to diagnose. In any case, each condition has a different diagnostic criterion.

Visiting a Doctor is an important starting point. At an appointment, a Doctor will aim to gain a thorough understanding of how the symptoms affect the individual.

They will ask a range of questions based on the symptoms, including how long they have lasted for, the impact they are having on the life of the individual, and anything else relevant.

This will result in a Doctor or relevant healthcare professional to tailor a treatment plan that can cater for specific symptoms.

Each condition has its own diagnostic criteria that needs to be satisfied in order for a diagnosis to be made.

Seeking help for a Somatic Disorder as soon as possible is important. These illnesses typically won’t fix themselves, and therefore the earlier help is sought, the sooner recovery will be possible.

Read More: How are Somatic Disorders Diagnosed? [Construction]

Treatment of Somatic Disorders

Somatic Disorders typically have a very negative effect on the life of an individual. However, treatment is available.

In many cases, recovery is possible. At the very least, the person will see an improvement in the quality of their life.

The exact treatment plan of each Somatic Disorder differs. You can see more at the link below [construction]. For now, we take a look at some of the general interventions for Somatic Disorders.

  • Talking Therapy: A form of talking therapy can be very useful for the majority of Somatic Disorders. These can help with trying to return a person’s daily functioning to a normal level. It can also address harmful thoughts and feelings. These disorders often link back to childhood memories, so there are many different therapy types that can be used. These include:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that is used to treat a range of mental health conditions. CBT involves an individual talking face-to-face with a therapist, although sometimes CBT can be conducted in a group setting. CBT attempts to improve an individual’s wellbeing and mood. The therapy focuses on the link between thoughts, feelings and actions. This can be useful for those with low self-esteem, anxiety, unhelpful personality traits or intrusive thoughts. CBT can help an individual understand their feelings more, and in the long run should lead to an improvement in quality of life.

Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy: Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy is a talking therapy that aims to help uncover and resolve unconscious beliefs that cause psychiatric conditions. Traumatic experiences that may or may not be buried in the unconscious mind can be highlighted and processed. Psychoanalytical psychotherapy involves talking to a trained therapist. The therapist can show the individual how early memories and past traumas have affected their thinking, behaviour and attitude in the modern day. Psychoanalytical psychotherapy is especially useful for any condition that involves past trauma. Renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud developed this therapy, which is typically completed over a long-term basis.

Exposure Therapy: Exposure Therapy – also known as Desensitisation – is commonly used for cases that involve either traumas or phobias. This type of therapy involves an individual being gradually exposed to their fear/trauma. A therapist can help set up a program for this. Over time, the individual will gradually become accustomed to their problem – though this takes time. The eventual aim is to overcome the problem. Relaxation methods may also be taught as part of this therapy.

Jungian Therapy: Also known as Jungian analysis, this therapy is based on Carl Jung’s theory on the mind. The aim of this therapy is to bring the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind together, which should lead to a more balanced state of mind. It can be used for a variety of conditions. The therapy tries to look at the real person, rather than the person seen by the outside world. The therapist will use different techniques to elicit responses.

  • Medication: While medication isn’t seen as a priority in the treatment of Somatic Disorders, it can still be used. This is especially the case if someone has feelings of low mood or anxiety. Potential medicines include:

Antidepressants: Antidepressants can help to improve and regulate mood. They should improve motivation and restore energy. SSRI Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed. They act on the brain chemical serotonin – which is thought to help in regulating mood and emotion. They may include side-effects such as a dry mouth, sexual problems and nausea, though these should hopefully be short-term. Other classes of antidepressants are available in the event of an inadequate reaction.

Treatment is available for each Somatic Disorder. Accessing this treatment is very important – it can lead to a much higher quality of life.

Read More: How Can Somatic Disorders Be Treated? [Construction]

Living with Somatic Disorders

Somatic Disorders often have a debilitating effect on an individual. While each Somatic Disorder is different, there are some similarities between the conditions.

Living with these conditions can be difficult, but there are some things that can be done to maximise chances of recovery. As always, the aim is to recover fully.  

Read More: 10 Tips on Living With Somatic Disorders [Construction]


Somatic Disorders generally have a poor prognosis. This is due to a range of reasons – but mainly due to their high comorbidity rate with other mental health conditions, high suicide rates, and their propensity for causing hopelessness and low mood.

But, certain areas can effect the prognosis, and some disorders in this category have a better prognosis than others. While it is far from the norm, it is possible to attain a full recovery from a Somatic Disorder. 

Read More: What is the Prognosis For Somatic Disorders [Construction]

See Also


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