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Somatoform Disorders


Somatoform disorders represent a group of disorders characterized by physical symptoms suggesting a medical disorder, however no general medical condition, other mental disorder, or substance is present. Psychological conflicts may be translated, or converted, into physical problems, pain, or complaints. Individuals suffering from a somatoform disorder are not consciously aware of the psychological factors which are in operation, and they are not "making up" their physical symptoms. The symptoms and pain are real - the cause is simply psychiatric instead of medical.


Types of Somatoform Disorders:

Body Dysmorphic Disorder:
Individuals suffering from body dysmorphic disorder become deeply concerned about some imagined or minor defect in their appearance. They may go to great lengths to conceal their "defects" or avoid contact with others.

Conversion Disorder:
In conversion disorder, a psychosocial conflict or need is converted into dramatic physical symptoms that affect voluntary motor or sensory functioning. The symptoms often seem neurological, such as paralysis, blindness, or loss of feeling (anesthesia).

Individuals who suffer from hypochondriasis unrealistically interpret bodily symptoms as signs of a serious illness. Often their symptoms are normal bodily changes, such as occasional coughing, sores or sweating. Although some patients recognize that their concerns are excessive, many do not. Hypochondriasis typically involves numerous physical symptoms and frequent visits to doctors.

Pain Disorder:
Pain disorder is characterized by an exaggeration of and continuation of pain without medical cause. This disorder generally develops after an accident or during an illness that has caused genuine pain.

Somatization Disorder:
Individuals with somatization disorder have numerous long-lasting physical ailments that have little or no organic basis. They usually go from doctor to doctor in search of relief from their symptoms. They often describe their many symptoms in dramatic and exaggerated terms. Somatization disorders can last for many years, and symptoms rarely disappear completely without extensive psychotherapy.


Causes of Somatoform Disorders:

A combination of factors is probably responsible for the development of somatoform disorders.

Stress is believed to be one of the most common causes of somatoform disorders. Stress and anxiety may be converted to physical symptoms.

Cultural influences appear to affect the gender ratios and body locations of somatoform disorders, as well as their frequency in a specific population. Researchers have discovered lower levels of somatization disorder among people with higher levels of education. Preoccupation with health and the body in general may be culturally influenced and may contribute to the development of these disorders.

Genetic or biological factors may also play a role in the development of these disorders. For example, people who suffer from somatization disorder may also differ in how they perceive and process pain, and individuals with hypochondriasis may be ultra sensitive to normal body processes.


Treatment of Somatoform Disorders:

Antianxiety drugs or antidepressants are sometimes given to those with somatoform disorders, especially if an anxiety or mood disorder is also diagnosed. Many clinicians avoid prescribing medications for these patients since they are believed to be at a higher risk to become psychologically dependent on them. Body dysmorphic disorder as been successfully treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants.

Therapy is often not very effective in treating individuals with somatoform disorders.

Family therapy is often recommended, especially in the treatment of children with somatoform disorders. Working with families of chronic pain patients also helps avoid reinforcing dependency within the family setting.

Hypnosis is a technique that is sometimes used because it may allow patients to recover memories or thoughts connected with the onset of the physical symptoms. Once those memories are uncovered, healing can begin.


All information contained in this web site is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your medical doctor or psychiatrist.
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This Site Updated 04/09/11