Somatoform Disorder

Approved Doctor(s) ; David Adam Fedoronko , Sara S. Nash • Dec 22, 2023

Table of contents

What is Somatoform Disorder?

Somatoform disorder is a psychiatric disorder characterized by persistent physical complaints and symptoms that are not caused by an organic problem or disease. The patient's complaints are not medically explainable and have a negative impact on his or her life in general. Somatoform disorders tend to trigger stress and anxiety and cause the individual to spend much of their time thinking about bodily complaints.

The severity of the patient's symptoms can range from mild, infrequent, chronic and severe and are beyond their conscious control. A person may also seek treatment for a strange appearance in any part of the body. It is thought that doctors cannot diagnose because the examinations do not show any discomfort.

Some people express their mental distress through the body when they experience events that they cannot handle mentally or when chronic stress dominates their lives. Tension in the muscles or organs as a result of excessive sadness and stress can cause psychological pain and distress in people, even if they do not have a disease.

Diagnostic Criteria for Somatoform Disorder

In order to be diagnosed with somatoform disorder, a person must have pain or at least one somatic symptom that affects their life and negatively affects their daily functioning. Unexplained physical symptoms are first checked medically to see if they are a symptom of a disease. A somatoform disorder is considered when the person does not have any illness.

Psychiatric evaluation is one of the most important diagnostic criteria. The stress factor of the person is evaluated, personality traits, family history, methods of coping with problems, defense mechanisms, etc. are evaluated in detail and a diagnosis of somatoform disorder can be made. Somatoform patients really feel pain and suffer, but they cannot recognize that it is not caused by a medical illness.

Symptoms of Somatoform Disorder

Symptoms of somatoform disorders vary according to the person's condition. Some of the symptoms are as follows:

  • One or more somatic symptoms that cause great distress and interfere with daily functioning
  • The person has overly persistent and disproportionate thoughts and concerns about physical symptoms and related health problems
  • Spending excessive amounts of time, energy and money trying to diagnose or treat symptoms of somatic disorders
  • Pain and thoughts lasting at least 6 months
  • Fear of serious or life-threatening symptoms in the absence of a medical diagnosis

Causes of Somatoform Disorder

There is no exact cause of somatoform disorder, but there are some potential conditions that can cause this disorder. These reasons are as follows:

Trauma History: If the patient has severe traumatic experiences, traumatic events such as losses, exposure to abuse, accidents increase the risk of somatoform disorder.

Psychological Factors: The disease can manifest itself in people with anxiety, depression, stress, trauma or internal conflict. Emotional or mental problems in a person can manifest as physical symptoms in the body.

Somatic Focus: The person focuses too much on the symptoms that occur in his/her body and constantly expressing these symptoms increases somatoform disorder.

Personality Factors: Some people may have behaviors such as expecting attention from outside, seeking attention, emotional support. Individuals who constantly try to get attention by projecting physical symptoms may experience somatoform disorder.

Family history and Genetics: If there are individuals in the family who have somatoform disorders, the likelihood of the person having somatoform disorders increases.

Somatoform Disorder Treatment Methods

People with somatoform disorder may have difficulty in treatment because they do not accept that their symptoms are caused by psychological factors. There are many people who get angry at doctors who cannot find the cause of their symptoms and go to different doctors. Patients with somatoform disorders also have other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse. Treatment of other mental health problems can improve the situation.

If the patient can be convinced that the improvement of mental factors will contribute to the physical symptoms, he or she will accept talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very helpful in this regard, helping to change the false beliefs underlying symptoms and identifying and dealing with emotional problems. In addition to therapy, medication is also used.

Somatoform Disorder Drug Treatment

If somatoform disorder and anxiety and depression are present, antidepressants or antianxiety medications may be used. Medication alone cannot solve somatoform disorder, but when combined with psychotherapy, it can help alleviate symptoms.

Types of Somatoform Disorder

There are different types of somatoform disorder. It can vary from person to person, depending on the underlying cause.


Hypochondriosis, also known as illness anxiety disorder Sometimes there are false beliefs that a person has or will have a serious illness, even though there are no physical symptoms. It is not a relief if the tests or imaging methods performed in hospitals come back clean.

Pain Disorder

Although the person does not have a medical disorder, he/she complains of a severe, very uncomfortable pain that does not go away. For some people, the cause of the pain is purely psychological.

Conversion Disorder

People with conversion disorder have symptoms such as loss of function, impaired function or reduced function in motor, sensory and neurovegetative organs. Neuropathic symptoms such as paralysis or blindness can occur. Although these findings suggest neurological damage, the results of the tests are normal. There may be sensations such as partial paralysis, tingling and tingling in the arms and legs.

Artificial (Constructed) Disorder

With an artificial disorder, the person presents himself or herself to the outside world as sick, unable to work or injured and does not do so consciously. In general, its purpose is to play the role of the patient.

Somatization (Embodiment) Disorder

Somatization disorder is accompanied by one or more physical symptoms that cause distress and significantly interrupt daily life. There is excessive mental and behavioral anxiety with resulting physical symptoms, and these patients may believe they have a serious illness. The course of somatization disorder can generally be episodic, sometimes with prolonged silent periods.

How to Treat Individuals with Somatoform Disorder?

Somatoform disorder is a treatable health problem. If medical examinations are inconclusive, the person should be referred to a psychiatrist. During the psychiatric treatment process, the person should be supported and given small tasks to help them adapt to their daily life. The person should be motivated to believe that this discomfort will pass. The importance of early treatment should be explained to the person in order not to interrupt the treatment process.

Methods that can help the individual are recommended. For example, the person should be supported with positive thinking exercises, individual management through symptom diary keeping, deep breathing techniques, support groups, yoga, meditation.

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