Psychosomatic means mind (psyche) and body (soma) and can have both mental and physical aspects.
Psychosomatic related conditions can be separated into three classes.
Class1: those with both a mental and medical illness. Both illnesses complicate the symptoms and management of each other.
Class 2: those with a mental issue as a direct result of a medical illness or its treatment, i.e. depression brought on by having cancer and subsequent treatment.
Class 3, the most prevalent type of psychosomatic related condition is somatoform disorders. These are a group of mental or psychiatric disorders manifested as physical problems or feelings of illness with no apparent, identifiable medical issue. To put another way, the physical symptoms experienced are related to psychological factors as opposed to anything identifiably medical.
Somatoform disorder are more common in females. Onset is usually before age 30. Common somatoform symptoms include digestive problems, headaches, pain, fatigue, menstrual problems, and sexual difficulties.
The exact cause isn’t known. Family history / genetic predisposition may be a contributing factor. Somatoform disorders may be triggered by strong emotions, situations or events, such as anxiety, grief, trauma, abuse, stress, depression, anger or guilt. Despite what anyone thinks, they are not intentionally producing physical symptoms or making up physical problems. These are real, but caused by psychological factors.
In the main, there are four main types: -
Common symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder
Those with body dysmorphic disorder become fixated with physical appearance. The person sees minor flaws as a major issue or indeed, may see flaws where none exist. Common areas of focus include loss of hair; the physical size and shape of body features, such as the facial (eyes, nose, lips etc.); breast size / shape; weight gain; wrinkles.
· Anxiety, fear of what other people “see”.
· Depression, perhaps related to low self esteem
· Withdrawal from situations where there are other people, i.e. public, social
· Mirrors: - either avoiding or the need to constantly check appearance
· Seeking reassurance /validation from others about their appearance
Common symptoms of conversion disorder
Symptoms of conversion disorder usually look like neurological problems and can include:
· Vision impairment (Sudden loss of vision, double vision)
· Swallowing (can lead to tube feeding in severe cases)
· Impaired balance or coordination, difficulty walking
· Inability to speak (aphonia)
· Loss of sensation
· Paralysis or weakness, in a limb, or entire body
· Urinary retention or conversely incontinence
Common symptoms of hypochondriasis
Hypochondriasis is thinking that everyday normal body functions or minor symptoms represent a serious medical condition. In the mind of a sufferer, for example, a common headache may be a brain tumour or muscle soreness in the limbs may be a sign of impending paralysis. Typical behaviours include:
Feeling that their GP has made an error in not diagnosing the cause of symptoms, or in some cases, not taking them seriously.
Common symptoms of somatisation disorder
Somatisation disorder is characterised by physical symptoms manifesting without an attributable physical cause. May include:
Potential complications of psychosomatic illness?
A person with psychosomatic illness, specifically a somatoform disorder are at increased risk of:
· Difficulty functioning effectively
· Physical Disability
· Diminished quality of life
· Major depression
· Suicidal thoughts or actions (especially prevalent in younger people)
It can be hard to spot and especially in people we see every day. Indicative symptoms to look for may present as follows, if identified, prompt medical help should be sought
How is psychosomatic illness treated?
Psychiatric treatment of somatoform disorders
Symptomatic treatment of somatoform disorders