What are Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What are Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Your mind and your body are connected.

The Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders chapter in the DSM 5 covers a group of disorders in which both the body and the emotions play a role. A lot of people think of the mind and the body as two separate things. They would like to believe that if you are sick, that means there was something wrong in your body. Otherwise – your pain is all in your head. The truth is emotional problems can make you physically ill, and illnesses that originated the body can significantly impact your emotional health.

People with Somatic Symptom and Related Disorder are primarily seen medical settings, often by primary care physicians. They are less often seen in mental health settings, and then primarily because their doctor referred them. Some of these conditions are quite rare in the general population. If a condition affects one in 300 people, then there would be over 1,000,000 people in the U.S. with that condition.

Many emotional and mental disorders create physical symptoms in the body. Depression characteristically causes changes in sleep and appetite as well as loss of energy and motivation. Anxiety disorders can cause dizziness, sweating, light-headedness, shortness of breath and many other physical symptoms. Panic Disorder manifests with symptoms similar to a heart attack or respiratory failure.

This group of disorders displays significant physical or somatic symptoms. The pain and suffering of the body are readily apparent. In these conditions, there is also significant distress and impairment in your ability to work, create and maintain relationships, or enjoy other important areas of your life. People with Somatic Symptoms Disorders are very upset by their symptoms.

This family of diagnoses should not be used simply because the doctor has been unable to find a medical explanation for the condition. Somatic Symptoms Disorders also require a change in the way the patient sees their symptoms. What the doctor or therapist is looking for is the way in which the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, are being altered because of the physical symptoms. Somatic Symptom Disorder, the most common among this family of disorders, is often present in combination with another diagnosed physical illness. When both conditions are present, it becomes more difficult to treat and may require the services of both a medical doctor and a therapist.

Risk factors for developing a Somatic Symptom Disorder.

Having a history of traumatic experiences in early life increases the risk for a Somatic Symptom Disorder. Stress is more than just a feeling. When under stress, hormones and neurotransmitters change. Living with high levels of stress hormones alters the functioning of the nervous system. Other risk factors include an increased sensitivity to pain, chronic pain, or living in an environment where no one listens to your needs unless your report physical pain.

Other disorders related to somatic symptoms.

Here is a short list of other disorders related to Somatic Symptom Disorder.

Illness Anxiety Disorder.

Conversion Disorder.

Facetious Disorder.

False Pregnancy (Pseudocyests)

Brief forms of Somatic Symptom Disorders.

As with the other things we are calling a mental illness, these conditions need to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, your relationships, your enjoyable activities or cause you personal distress. Otherwise, you may have the issues, but you will not get the diagnoses if this is not causing you a problem. If the only time this happens is when under the influence of drugs or medicines, or because of some other physical or medical problem, this problem needs to be more severe than your situation would warrant. These other issues need treating first; then if you still have symptoms, you could get this diagnosis.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions, please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

See Recommended Books.     More “What is” posts will be found at “What is.”

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

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Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.