Somatization disorder causes a person to chronically complain of a variety of symptoms that cannot be linked to any physical cause. People with this disorder generally visit the doctor's office frequently to seek help, and physical examinations produce no root cause for pain, gastrointestinal problems or other sickness that may be recurrent. Symptoms of this disorder are generally referred to as 'somatic'.
Symptoms of Somatization Disorder
Somatization disorder can be responsible for any number of somatic symptoms. These can include pain, vomiting, sexual symptoms, fainting and others. When these symptoms are not related to any definable physical condition, occur frequently and aren't refined to one particular area of the body, somatization disorder could be indicated. Here is a brief synopsis of criteria that may help pinpoint this disorder:
- Recurrent pain in at least four different body parts or areas
- Two separate gastrointestinal symptoms that do not contribute to pain
- One sexual symptom that is not painful, including lack of interest or erectile dysfunction
- One pseudoneurological symptom, such as fainting or bouts of blurred vision
- Symptoms may come and go, or remain present throughout the course of the disorder
Causes of Somatization Disorder
There is no known cause for somatization disorder. This disorder has been researched and studied for many years and professionals tend to agree on one of the following three theories:
- Psychological stress – the mind can formulate many different ways of coping with stress and imbalance. This theory suggests that the body is reflecting psychological stress by releasing it in the way of physical symptoms. This theory may carry the most weight, as some research now suggests that many physical ailments may be directly caused by an emotional or hormonal imbalance.
- Sensitivity – some people are acutely aware of changing sensations within their bodies, and may have a very low tolerance for pain. If this is the case, a minor occurrence or change within the body system could seem very much like a condition that needed medical intervention.
- Overemphasis – negative thoughts and the overemphasis of fear of disease can lead the mind to hypersensitivity. The worry produced by a focus on the potential to be infected with a rare or deadly illness can actually create somatic symptoms. When a person becomes focused on this thought or idea, he or she may withdraw from society and actually be afflicted with more and more pain, discomfort and other symptoms.
Diagnosing Somatization Disorder
Diagnosing somatization disorder may be tricky, as the patient can be describing and may show evidence of real symptoms, but medical science provides no explanation. Once all physical ailments have been ruled out via testing, a psychological evaluation will likely be performed. If symptoms do not indicate an alternate mental illness, and have been present for an extended period of time, since before the age of 30, somatization disorder may be diagnosed. Different symptoms may come and go, or remain present throughout the course of the disorder.
Treatment Options for Somatization Disorder
Somatization disorder can be difficult to treat if patients have trouble reaching awareness of psychological vs. physical symptoms. Medication, such as anti-depressants or pain relief may be recommended, but this will likely only perpetuate the disorder. The best form of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps a patient to become aware of his or her situation and understand triggers that may be causing stress or leading to somatic symptoms. Once a patient understands the lack of catastrophic possibilities that may result from pain or upset stomach, he or she may be able to return to a normal way of life without constant focus on changes in the body's rhythm or energy.