Somatoform Disorders: Everything You Need To Know

With the name of somatoform disorders a group of diseases is known whose main characteristic is the absence of injuries or physical dysfunctions. In other words, the patient is perceived as sick, but there is no biological evidence that he is.

The term somatoform disorders is relatively new. Previously, conditions that responded to these characteristics were considered separately. It has not been easy to classify everything into a single group, given the difficulty of reaching a diagnosis.

Somatoform disorders are quite common. It is not possible to determine exactly, but it is estimated that approximately 15 to 25 percent of primary care visits are due to somatic symptoms, according to research published in 2013 in the Chilean Journal of Neuro-Psychiatry.

What are somatoform disorders

The main characteristic of somatoform disorders is that those who suffer from them experience a series of physical symptoms, which would be indicative of a disease. However, from an organic point of view , such a disease does not exist.

Physical symptoms can be accompanied by a tremendous amount of distress. The patient is concerned about his health and devotes a great deal of his time and attention to it. All this picture affects the normal functioning of the person.

Woman on the street with hand on head

People with somatoform disorders do not intentionally pretend or pretend to deceive others. They are not aware that their problem is mental, and that is why their anguish at the possibility of being ill is real.

Somatoform disorders are sometimes accompanied by illness. However, the patient overestimates the severity of it, or continues to worry after recovery. Doctors are often blamed for poor care.

Types of somatoform disorders

The difference between somatoform and psychosomatic disorders is that in the former there is no real physical illness. In the latter, on the other hand, there is an organic damage, which is due to psychological causes. The main somatoform disorders are:

  • Body dysmorphic disorder. It is the erroneous assumption that you have a defect in physical appearance. Before it was called dysmorphophobia.
  • Somatization disorder. There are a series of physical symptoms that are maintained over time and that correspond to a disease, but there is no organic evidence of it. This usually starts before the age of 30.
  • Hypochondria. Physical sensations are interpreted as symptoms of a disease. The organic signs are exaggerated and the results of tests or medical examinations are not attended to.
  • Conversion disorder. There are motor or sensory symptoms or deficits that lead to think about the existence of a disease. Before it was called hysterical conversion neurosis.
  • Pain disorder. It is the presence of intense pain that leads to seek medical help, without finding an organic cause for such pain.

Causes and symptoms

The hallmark of those with somatoform disorders is excessive concern for their health. They make the so-called illness the center of attention, and it takes up much of their time.

Most of those with these types of problems have multiple symptoms. However, some have only one, usually very intense. This is accompanied by catastrophic thoughts. They create fantasies that always lead to tragedies or irreparable consequences.

It is common for patients with somatoform disorders to become depressed and dependent on others. They expect great attention and care. They get angry if this does not happen and often express disagreement with the treatment given to them.

It is possible that this whole picture is the result of a strong desire to be cared for and protected. Likewise, adopting the role of “chronically ill” helps them avoid responsibilities and becomes a form of self-punishment for feelings of inferiority and guilt.

Diagnosis and prognosis

It is not easy to diagnose somatoform disorders. In general, physicians take many precautions before determining that a patient who claims to be ill is actually suffering from a mental disorder.

Doctors may think that the clinical tests have not been adequate,  or that the results gave the wrong indicators. Likewise, the pressure of the patient and the reference to the intensity of the symptoms usually operate as a smokescreen that makes diagnosis difficult.

The usual thing is that the diagnosis is only reached after a long time in which hypotheses are formulated and demolished around organic diseases. It is also common that the patient does not accept the diagnosis and seeks other medical opinions.

In summary, somatoform disorders are part of a group of conditions that mainly affect a person’s perception of their health. If you know someone or yourself suffer from symptoms of a somatoform disorder, we recommend that you consult your doctor.

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