Somatic Symptom Disorder

What is Somatic Symptom Disorder

Somatic symptom disorder is a mental health condition. People with this disorder have physical (somatic) symptoms that cause distress or affect daily living. However, no other medical condition can be found to explain these symptoms.

Somatic symptom disorder may interfere with relationships, work, school, or other daily activities. It may lead to frequent medical visits and many medical tests to try to find the cause of symptoms.

It may also lead to surgical procedures that do not help and can cause serious problems. People with somatic symptom disorder are also at risk for alcohol or drug addiction, suicide attempts, and divorce.

Somatic symptom disorder may start in childhood but is most common in young adults. The disorder may be triggered by stressful life events. It may last for several years or may come and go throughout life.

What are the causes?

The exact cause of this condition is often unknown.

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:

  • Being female. The disorder is more common in females than males.
  • Having a history of childhood abuse.
  • Having a history of alcohol or substance abuse.
  • Having family members with the disorder.
  • Having other mental health conditions, including personality disorders.

What are the signs or symptoms?

You may have somatic symptoms that cannot be explained by a medical condition. Examples of somatic symptoms may include:

  • Pain. This may be the only physical symptom. Pain may involve any part of the body.
  • Stomach or intestinal symptoms. These may include nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.
  • Other non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, or dizziness.

How is this diagnosed?

You may be diagnosed with this condition if:

  • You have one or more somatic symptoms that cause you distress or affect your daily living.
  • You react to the somatic symptoms in a way that is out of proportion to the symptoms. The reaction may include:
    • Thinking all the time about the severity of the symptoms.
    • Feeling very anxious all the time about the symptoms or your general health.
    • Spending a lot of time and energy dealing with the symptoms or health concerns.
  • You have somatic symptoms either continuously or on and off for at least 6 months.

Exams and tests will be done to rule out serious physical health problems. After that, your health care provider may refer you to a mental health specialist for psychological evaluation. Somatic symptoms can be related to a number of mental health conditions.

How is this treated?

This condition is treated with one or more of the following:

  • Regular follow-up visits with your health care provider for evaluation and reassurance.
  • Counseling or talk therapy. This involves working with a mental health specialist to:
    • Help you understand what triggers your symptoms.
    • Help you learn some coping skills to deal with your symptoms.
  • Medicine. Certain medicines can help with severe anxiety or depression caused by this disorder.
  • Healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce stress and somatic symptoms.

Follow these instructions at home:

Medicines

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.

Eating and drinking

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Do not eat a lot of foods that are high in solid fats, added sugars, or salt.

General instructions

  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Do not use illegal drugs. Do not misuse prescription medicines.
  • Do not drink alcohol if your health care provider tells you not to.
  • Get regular exercise. Most adults should exercise for at least 150 minutes each week. Check with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.
  • Get the right amount and quality of sleep. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your pain or symptoms do not go away or they become severe.
  • You develop new symptoms.

Get help right away if:

  • You have serious thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else.

You can go to your nearest emergency department or call:

  • Your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.).
  • A suicide crisis helpline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is open 24 hours a day.

Summary

  • People with somatic symptom disorder have physical symptoms that cause distress or affect daily living. However, no other medical condition can be found to explain these symptoms.
  • Somatic symptom disorder may interfere with relationships, work, school, or other daily activities. It may lead to frequent medical visits and many medical tests to try to find the cause of symptoms.
  • Exams and tests will be done to rule out serious physical health problems. After that, your health care provider may refer you to a mental health specialist for psychological evaluation.

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