What is somatic symptom disorder?
Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) involves having a significant focus on physical symptoms — such as pain or fatigue — to the point that it causes major emotional distress and problems functioning. You may or may not have another diagnosed medical condition associated with these symptoms.
Excessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors in response to physical symptoms may lead to frequent doctor visits. You often think the worst about your symptoms and continue to search for an explanation, even when other serious conditions have been excluded. Health concerns may become such a central focus of your life that it’s hard to function, sometimes leading to disability.
If you have somatic symptom disorder, you may experience significant emotional and physical suffering. Treatment can help ease symptoms, help you cope and improve your quality of life.
How common is somatic symptom disorder?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of somatic symptom disorder?
The common symptoms of somatic symptom disorder are:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms may be mild to severe. There may be one or more symptoms. They may come and go or change. Symptoms may be due to a medical condition. They also may have no clear cause.
How people feel and behave in response to these physical sensations are the main symptoms of SSD. These reactions must persist for 6 months or more. People with SSD may:
- Feel extreme anxiety about symptoms
- Feel concern that mild symptoms are a sign of serious disease
- Go to the doctor for multiple tests and procedures, but not believe the results
- Feel that the doctor does not take their symptoms seriously enough or has not done a good job treating the problem
- Spend a lot of time and energy dealing with health concerns
- Have trouble functioning because of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about symptoms
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes somatic symptom disorder?
The exact cause of somatic symptom disorder isn’t clear, but any of these factors may play a role:
- Genetic and biological factors, such as an increased sensitivity to pain
- Family influence, which may be genetic or environmental, or both
- Personality trait of negativity, which can impact how you identify and perceive illness and bodily symptoms
- Decreased awareness of or problems processing emotions, causing physical symptoms to become the focus rather than the emotional issues
- Learned behavior — for example, the attention or other benefits gained from having an illness; or “pain behaviors” in response to symptoms, such as excessive avoidance of activity, which can increase your level of disability
What increases my risk for somatic symptom disorder?
There are many risk factors for somatic symptom disorder, such as:
- Having anxiety or depression
- Having a medical condition or recovering from one
- Being at risk of developing a medical condition, such as having a strong family history of a disease
- Experiencing stressful life events, trauma or violence
- Having experienced past trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse
- Having a lower level of education and socio-economic status
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is somatic symptom disorder diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose somatic symptom disorder when people do the following:
- Have symptoms that worry them excessively and/or disrupt their daily life
- Constantly think about how serious their symptoms are
- Are extremely anxious about their health or the symptoms
- Spend an excessive amount of time and energy on the symptoms or health concerns
To determine whether symptoms are due to a physical disorder, doctors do a thorough examination and often do tests.
Somatic symptom disorder can be distinguished from similar mental health disorders by its many persistent symptoms and the accompanying excessive thoughts and worries about the symptoms.
This disorder may be missed in older people because certain symptoms, such as fatigue or pain, are considered part of aging or because worry about symptoms is considered understandable in older people, who usually have several medical problems and take many drugs.
How is somatic symptom disorder treated?
The goal of treatment is to control your symptoms and help you function in life.
Having a supportive relationship with your health care provider is vital for your treatment.
You should have only one primary care provider. This will help you avoid having unneeded tests and procedures.
You should see your provider regularly to review your symptoms and how you are coping.
You may also see a mental health provider (therapist). It’s important to see a therapist who has experience treating SSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that can help treat SSD. Working with a therapist can help relieve your pain and other symptoms. During therapy, you will learn to:
- Look at your feelings and beliefs about health and your symptoms
- Find ways to reduce stress and anxiety about symptoms
- Stop focusing as much on your physical symptoms
- Recognize what seems to make the pain or other symptoms worse
- Learn how to cope with the pain or other symptoms
- Stay active and social, even if you still have pain or other symptoms
- Function better in your daily life
Your therapist will also treat depression or other mental health illnesses you may have. You may take antidepressants to help relieve anxiety and depression.
You should not be told that your symptoms are imaginary or all in your head. Your provider should work with you to manage both physical and emotional symptoms.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage somatic symptom disorder?
Little is known about how to prevent somatic symptom disorder. However, these recommendations may help.
- If you have problems with anxiety or depression, seek professional help as soon as possible.
- Learn to recognize when you’re stressed and how this affects your body — and regularly practice stress management and relaxation techniques.
- If you think you have somatic symptom disorder, get treatment early to help stop symptoms from getting worse and impairing your quality of life.
- Stick with your treatment plan to help prevent relapses or worsening of symptoms.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: December 12, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019
Somatic symptom disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/somatic-symptom-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20377776. Accessed December 12, 2017.
Somatic symptom disorder. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000955.htm. Accessed December 12, 2017.
Somatic Symptom Disorder. http://www.msdmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/somatic-symptom-and-related-disorders/somatic-symptom-disorder. Accessed December 12, 2017.