All Topics

Help With Somatic Symptom Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Somatic symptom disorder involves a person having a significant focus on physical symptoms, such as pain, weakness or shortness of breath, that results in major distress and/or problems functioning. The individual has excessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors relating to the physical symptoms. The physical symptoms may or may not be associated with a diagnosed medical condition, but the person is experiencing symptoms and believes they are sick (that is, not faking the illness).

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

  • Feb 14, 2018
Childhood Trauma and Resilience: Participating in Sports Can Help

People who have experienced trauma or abuse in childhood are at much higher risk of mental health problems throughout their lives. However, there are actions that individuals and communities can take to build resilience and help ward off mental health problems later.

  • Feb 12, 2018
Many with PTSD Not Getting Treatment

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that affects an estimated one in 11 people at some time in their lives. Some research has found that people with PTSD access treatment even less than those with other mental health conditions, such as depression. New research looks at some of the factors related to people seeking and utilizing treatment with the hope of increasing the number of people receiving treatment

  • Jan 18, 2018
What is an Alienist?

The Alienist is an upcoming American television psychological thriller series set in New York City in 1896. Alienist is an archaic term once used to describe a psychiatrist, particularly one who testifies in court.

Upcoming Events
Dec
2017
12
Find a Support Group
  • Tue,  Dec  12 - Sun,  Dec  31

American Chronic Pain Association

How can family members best support and help someone with somatic symptom disorder?

Somatic symptom disorder is a complex illness that calls for consistent and reassuring relationships with confident and supportive healthcare providers. Often at the center is uncertainty and lack of trust in one’s own ability to tell the difference between normal bodily sensations and those that signal harm. It can be very challenging for individuals, family members and healthcare professionals alike to tell if new symptoms relate to a major illness or routine feelings of discomfort.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that often people with the disorder have ongoing chronic illnesses which can change and worsen over time. The art of managing somatic symptom disorders is therefore balancing the need for a prudent medical evaluation with over-diagnosis and over-treatment. This balance can only be achieved through a trusting relationship with a knowledgeable clinician, usually a primary care provider or primary care team.

Family members can assist an individual with somatic symptom disorders with ongoing support and understanding, and encouragement of stable and consistent healthcare relationships. Additionally, family members can help to follow treatment plans that aim to avoid urgent and emergent medical care settings in favor of outpatient appointments with a consistent provider. Family can also assist the person suffering to track and record symptom information for later discussion with his/her provider. Family members can also play a valuable role in reassurance and communication with the person’s healthcare team. Read More

My wife has been diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder. She continues to get angry with doctors and can’t accept that they can’t find anything physically wrong. She doesn’t want to consider that “it’s all in her head.” What can I do to get her to accept help?

As mentioned above, the name of the game is balancing prudent medical investigations and treatments with over-diagnosis and treatment. The ultimate shared fear of patients and healthcare providers dealing with somatic symptom disorders is that we’ve all gotten it wrong – that we’ve missed a rare disease and caused undue suffering and/or death as a result. Put another way – that we’ve identified something as being “all in their head” when, in fact, they weren’t “making it up”. Experienced clinicians reassure their patients that, though the tests run so far have been normal, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what the patient is experiencing isn’t happening. I frame normal lab tests as reassurance that nothing catastrophic is going on, highlight the number of diagnoses that we’ve “ruled out” as a result and pledge support to continue to work with the patient to improve functionality and monitor symptoms for any change in quality or quantity warranting further investigation.

It’s important to also acknowledge the toll these symptoms can take in loss of functioning, and to express empathy with the shared fear and confusion that inevitably occur with these disorders. Spouses and family members can take the same approach. Avoid direct confrontation about the truthfulness of the symptoms and help the person identify creative and practical solutions and coping strategies that can minimize the problems caused by the symptoms. Recognizing the emotional toll of feeling isolated through this process and encouraging attention to mental health concerns that could be framed as “side effects” of these symptoms may be a segue into more formal mental health treatments. Furthermore, spouses can help through the profession of unconditional love and support. Read More

vanderlip-expert.jpg

About the Expert:

Erik Vanderlip, M.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Professor, Departments of Psychiatry, Medical Informatics
University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine

Martin’s Story

Martin is a 31-year-old married male who has been seen by Dr. Smith, a primary care physician who practices near Martin’s work. Martin began to see Dr. Smith three months ago after abdominal pain he had been experiencing for about a year was becoming progressively worse. Martin noticed that the abdominal pain would come on intermittently, was located everywhere in his abdomen and was not consistently related to food intake.

Read More

Have a Story of Your Own to Share?

Editor's Choice

JAN 8, 2018

Health and you: Psychotherapy to beat stress and gastrointestinal distress

The Asian Age

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is common in patients having psychological disorders. IBS and psychological problems many times are co-morbid. Many patients present their psychological distress with somatic symptoms and gastrointestinal distress is one common symptom. .

DEC 21, 2017

How The Sexist Stereotypes We Used To Have About Anxiety Affect Your Healthcare Today

Bustle

Living with health anxiety — a kind of generalized anxiety disorder that focuses on the fear of becoming ill — is a real, serious issue, but "hypochondria," as it used to be called, is often stigmatized as a symptom of an overactive imagination, or a kind of attention-seeking behavior. Health anxiety or illness anxiety, which can encompass general anxiety as well as somatic symptom disorder, in which symptoms appear without any underlying medical reason, affects people of all genders and ages, and is thought to be experienced by between 1 and 3 percent of the adult population. But health anxiety has long been thought of primarily as a women's issue, and one of the potential consequences of that association affects how women get healthcare even today.

Oct 5, 2017

What Is It Like To Suffer From An Anxiety Disorder?

NPR

After a decades-long struggle and with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, Petersen has a handle on her anxiety. From all appearances, she thrives in her life as a wife, mother and reporter. That isn't to say she doesn't have anxiety: She does. She has also been diagnosed with what is called somatic symptom disorder, which "involves distressing physical symptoms and significant worry about them."