Somatization or Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD) Treatment

Somatization is a tendency to experience and express psychological or emotional distress in the form of physical (somatic) symptoms. For an example, stress can cause some people to develop headaches, back pain, chest pain, nausea or fatigue. Disorders where somatization manifests range from Somatic Symptom Disorder (previously called somatization disorder) to malingering. People with these disorders tend to focus on their physical problems instead of psychological ones. They often interpret their symptoms as a bodily illness and seek medical advice or treatment, as opposed to seeking psychiatric care.

Most people experience somatization at some point in their lives. Having a headache due to stress, throwing up from anxiety, or feeling physically weak after trauma are all examples of somatization. But these instances are typically situational and temporary. Somatization becomes a clinical issue when it causes prolonged and severe distress.

What is Somatization Disorder?

Somatization is a primary symptom of Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD). Somatization Disorder is a chronic condition in which there are numerous physical complaints – lasting for years and resulting in substantial impairment – that are caused by psychological problems and for which no underlying physical problem can be identified.


In medical clinics, the most commonly seen of the Somatoform disorders is Somatization Disorder. In the history of psychology, this was often referred to as “hysteria” or “Briquet’s Syndrome.” It is characterized by multiple symptoms involving pain, gastrointestinal, sexual and pseudo neurological complaints. The complaints begin before age 30-32 and extend over many years. The patient often has a complex medical history of shopping for diagnoses and endless series of laboratory and radiologic studies.

Symptoms of Somatization Disorder

DSM-IV states that for a symptom to qualify for somatization disorder, it has to be without medical explanation.  Some of the numerous symptoms that can occur with somatization disorder include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the legs or arms
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Amnesia
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vision changes
  • Paralysis or muscle weakness
  • Pain during urination
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Sexual apathy
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Impotence
  • Painful menstruation
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding

Are Somatic Symptoms Fake?

Somatic symptoms are not fake or imaginary. People with SSD experiencing somatization are not pretending to be sick for personal gain either—that is called malingering. Somatic symptoms may not have an observable cause, but the pain and distress are real. Individuals with this issue deserve as much compassion as those with a physical diagnosis.

What causes Somatization?

There are many theories about why somatization occurs. These theories involve:

  • Heightened biological sensitivity to certain sensations, such as pain or nausea. They may be more likely to attribute these sensations to illness.
  • Misinterpreted psychological symptoms, such as anxious sweating, can be interpreted—due to a physical cause.
  • Trauma or stress can also cause somatization. Research shows survivors of trauma are particularly susceptible to somatization. Trauma can lead to high levels of cortisol and other hormones. These chemicals can weaken one’s immune system and cause physical symptoms such as dizziness.
  • Somatization could be a defense mechanism, protecting the person from emotional overwhelm. Some psychological symptoms may be so overwhelming that a person cannot face them consciously. A person’s distress may then find an outlet through the body, converting to a physical symptom.
  • Some people may live in a culture that stigmatizes emotional distress. A person may receive more attention and sympathy when they present physical symptoms than when they report psychological issues. A person’s mind and body may “learn” to somaticize distress in order to get help.

Treatment of Somatization Disorder

Somatization disorder is difficult to treat. Continuing care by one doctor using only the minimum of essential investigations can reduce the patients’ use of health services and may improve their functional state.

Once other causes have been ruled out and a diagnosis of somatization disorder is secured, the goal of treatment is to help the person learn to control the symptoms. There is often an underlying mood disorder which can respond to conventional treatment, such as antidepressant medications.

A supportive relationship with a sympathetic health care provider is the most important aspect of treatment. Regularly scheduled appointments should be maintained to review symptoms and the person’s coping mechanisms. Test results should be explained.

Psychiatric assessment can help to clarify a complicated history, to negotiate a simplified pattern of care and to agree the aims of treatment with the patient, the family and the responsible physician. The aim of treatment is often to limit further progression rather than to cure.

It is not helpful to tell people with this disorder that their symptoms are imaginary.

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can give good results for treating somatic symptom disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly helpful form of psychotherapy for somatic symptom disorder. It involves working with a therapist to identify negative or irrational thoughts and patterns.

Once you’ve identified these thoughts, your therapist will work with you to come up with ways to work through them and more effectively respond to stressful situations. You’ll also learn different ways to manage anxiety about your health.

Prevention of Somatization Disorder

Counseling or other psychological interventions may help people who are prone to somatization learn other ways of dealing with stresses. This may help reduce the intensity of the symptoms.

Over to You

I hope, if you will use above tips and strategies for the treatments for SSD; you will surely be able to manage this mental health condition in a better way.

That’s all from my side. I hope, you liked this article on Somatization. Please share this on your favorite social media portals with your friends and relatives.

(Medical Disclaimer: This article is for general information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Before adopting preventive methods/measures/treatment, please seek medical advice.)

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