Somatoform disorders, also known as Briquet’s syndrome, are mental illnesses that cause bodily symptoms including pain. The symptoms can’t be traced back to any physical cause.
These disorders are very difficult to diagnose, since there are no specific causes or symptoms associated with them. It can take a while for a medical professional to catch on to the fact that the physical effects have purely mental causes.
The lack of a medical cause for the symptoms someone with a somatoform disorder experiences can create a lot of anxiety about their health. It often leads to many unnecessary, expensive and sometimes dangerous tests and procedures while trying to find the root cause.
The diagnosis process is anxiety-ridden for the patient and their loved ones, and even after the diagnosis, they tend to hold on to the belief that there is still some underlying physical cause, yet to be discovered.
Types of Somatoform Disorders
Image Credit: María Victoria Heredia Reyes
There are multiple types of somatization. They are commonly accompanied by other mental health issues like anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders and others.
- Somatization Disorder: Multiple physical systems involving varied organs and bodily symptoms. Patient usually has long history of medical issues.
- Undifferentiated Somatoform Disorder: Fewer and less specific symptoms than somatization disorder. Diagnosis requires one or more unexplained symptoms for at least six months.
- Hypochondriasis: Preoccupation with concern that they have a disease. Minor complaints are often exaggerated in the mind as a life-threatening ailment. They belief a headache is the sign of a brain tumor, or a small rash is really skin cancer.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Constant anxiety over a real or imagined physical flaw or defect.
- Conversion Disorder: Unexplained neurological conditions like blindness or hearing loss for which there is no explanation.
- Pain Disorder: Chronic pain experienced after suffering a traumatic incident.
- Somatoform disorder not otherwise specified: Cases that involve symptoms from multiple forms of somatoform disorders, but do not fully conform to one definition. One of the cases that falls under this umbrella is pseudocyesis, the mistaken belief that you are pregnant due to physical signs of pregnancy. This can even result in a false positive on a pregnancy test.
Since the diagnosis process can be rocky, people with somatoform disorders can develop difficult relationships with medical institutions or care providers. Stick with one trusted physician who has experience dealing with somatoform disorders.
Cognitive behavioural therapy can also be beneficial to help manage the disorder. It helps by adjusting behaviours that lead to health anxiety, such as distorted thoughts or unrealistic ideas.
If someone you love is dealing with a somatoform disorder, be patient and remember that while somatoform disorders stem from mental health issues, the physical pain of someone with one of these disorders is very real.
Feature Image: Wellington Sanipe