Somatic Symptoms: Impact of Perceived Burden
Somatic Symptom Disorder – Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash
Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 4/21/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.
Somatic symptom disorder is experienced by about five to seven percent of the adult population. Ten times more women than men experience these symptoms, most likely because one of its causes is childhood abuse and trauma that women are subjected to more often.
Other causes of somatic symptoms include parental neglect, sexual abuse, emotionally distant parents, low pain threshold, and significant fear of physical wellbeing.
The disorder normally sets in before 25–30 years. However, in some instances, the disorder can be seen in adolescents.What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association defines somatic symptom disorder as the excessive focus on physical symptoms that interfere with day-to-day life. These physical symptoms may or may not be connected to a diagnosed medical illness.
It is important to remember that those with somatic symptom disorder are not faking an illness, but they believe that they are ill because of their excessive focus on the physical symptom.
Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder
Following types of physical symptoms are frequently experienced by those with somatic symptom disorder.
- Pain in arms, legs, joints, chest, abdomen, and back
- Dizziness and fainting
- Difficulties with movement
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive issues like bowel problems, diarrhea, and constipation
- Painful periods for women
- Pain during sexual activity
Most patients witness more than one of these symptoms.
Impact of Somatic Symptoms
1. Overall Health
Although somatic symptom disorder is categorized as a mental illness, its symptoms (discussed above) are physical and can hinder the functioning of the body.
The mind-body connection establishes a link between one’s mental makeup and the physical condition. This points to an adverse impact on the overall health of the patient with somatic symptoms.
In certain instances, a person’s sensation, movement, or perception may be impacted with no related physical cause. These individuals can also become blind or numb temporarily. This is called conversion disorder.
2. Surgery Outcomes
Those with somatic symptoms tend to seek medical care from multiple physicians for the same illness. They can also be hypersensitive to the side effects of medications.
When it comes to surgery recovery, patients with somatic symptoms can unknowingly mislead surgeons by requesting investigations into particular postoperative conditions. This can complicate and lengthen the recovery phase.
3. Mental Health
About 30–60% of patients with somatic symptoms also experience depression or anxiety. When it becomes harder to manage stressors, these individuals may start using drugs, alcohol, or other substances. In the worst-case scenario, they may even begin to ideate about suicide.
Those with somatic symptoms can also have a specific type of anxiety called illness anxiety disorder. These individuals are overly anxious about catching diseases.
Studies have found that those with somatic symptoms have a high risk for “self-reported disease burden, negative perception of their health, and disability.” Although empirical studies don’t directly point to longevity, this increased risk can decrease a patient’s lifespan.
5. Life Satisfaction
According to research, there is evidence that higher life satisfaction and more social support can improve a somatic symptom patient’s response to treatment and improve the efficiency of treatment.
However, it’s also plausible that continuous worrying about physical conditions can lead to lower life satisfaction due to the health and mental health impacts discussed above.
This disorder is a long-term disease that can take several years to cure fully. If you see any symptoms, it is critical to obtain treatment at your earliest.