An Overview of Psychosomatic Disorders

There are so many people who are suffering from psychosomatic disorders. These disorders  are also called somatoform disorders. These people show physical symptoms that cannot be linked to any specific disease or injury. Symptoms are triggered by social or psychological stress. Writer has written other blog posts on the connection of mind, body, and soul.It is very important to understand this connection when we attempt to understand the dynamics of psychosomatic disorders. Emotions do have an effect on our body. Emotions are produced by our thoughts and they can also affect our body. People suffering from panic disorder know how their self talk can invite and trigger the physiological response in their body. Similarly, people suffering from arthritis can become depressed. The connection between mind and body is due to the neurotransmitters. Emotions tend to alter the levels of these chemicals and thus alter the functioning of other parts of the body.

There are several types of psychosomatic disorders and they are listed and explained below.

Somatization Disorders:

Somatization disorders begin in the teen years and are more common among women. Symtoms include gastrointestinal complaints, chest pain, headaches, breathing problems, weakness, or urinary problems. Often women may have symptoms of the reproductive system that are unusually frequent or severe. Painful menstruation, irregular menstrual periods, and vomiting throughout the pregnancy are some of the symptoms of somatization disorder. In addition, somatization disorders often include symptoms that indicate depression involving insomnia, poor appetite and loss of libido. Some women suffer from anxiety and panic disorders too. Women go to the doctors and complain about these symptoms and sometimes exaggerate their symptoms for seeking attention. They are not satisfied with their doctors and they keep shopping for doctors because they firmly believe that they have some illness and no one is trying to diagnose it. They also tend to exhibit these symptoms to seek attention from family members as secondary gains.

Hypochondria

Hypochondria often includes symptoms of depression marked with insomnia, loss of appetite, and decreased libido. People suffering from hypochondria also suffer from anxiety and sometimes, substance abuse. They seem to be preoccupied with a belief that they have a serious illness despite medical findings are contrary to their beliefs. Hypochondriacs have genuine physical complaints triggered by emotional stress for which there is no underlying physical defect. Hypochondriacs typically revolve their lives around these symptoms, which they can describe very graphically. In women, hypochondria tends to develop around midlife. It is generally common among women suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. Acute grief reaction can also trigger symptoms of hypochondria for a temporary period.

Chronic Pain Syndrome

Sometimes illnesses like cancer or back injury can lead to chronic pain. People with chronic pain syndrome experience pain that is incompatible with their physical abnormalities. In some cases people have an actual injury or disease, or had surgery, but their pain is much more severe than would normally be expected. Some people feel chronic pain with no identifiable physical problem at all. Chronic pain syndrome involves pain anywhere in the body which has lasted at least six months. Chronic pain syndrome sufferers experience social isolation, are often demoralized, angry, jobless and very dependent on narcotic pain killers. Many sufferers stop working and get on disability, visit doctor after doctor undergoing numerous surgeries and taking larger and larger doses of narcotics painkillers. Psychological factors contribute to the pain. People suffering from chronic pain syndrome use pain as a way of coping with emotional stress. Research shows that this type of illness is more common among people who have been abused as children. Women experience loss of libido, decreased appetite and insomnia. They become socially isolated and lose their desire to entertain company and go for entertainment at the parties etc.

Conversion Disorder

Convewrsion disorders are characterized by loss or alteration in some physical function that seems to have a physical origin but that is caused by specific psychological factors. This was previously called hysteria. For example, a woman with violent feelings toward a husband who is cheating on him, may develop amnesia as a coping mechanism to deal with her anger and stop her from acting out on these feelings. People with conversion disorder are not consciously manufacturing the symptoms. The pain often involves female reproductive organs or sexual dysfunction, but there are other symptoms in non sexual areas as well. The most common conversion disorders are amnesia, blindness, numbness, seizures, false pregnancy, excessive vomiting during pregnancy, and inability to swallow or talk. It is believed that although the woman with conversion disorder may truly be unable to see, the blindness cannot be accounted for by a recognizable defect in the visual system. The root of the physical symptom is believed to be psychosomatic. People with this disorder unintentionally convert psychological conflicts into physical symptoms.

Conversion disorders are more common among people having histrionic and dependent personalities. It usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Some researchers view conversion disorders as a post traumatic stress disorder, which in women most commonly occurs due to experiencing rape, incest, or domestic violence.

Treatment of Psychosomatic Disorders

Psychosomatic disorders are generally not treated with psychotherapeutic medications unless they are associated with some other clearly defined psychiatric illness such as major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder. Psychotherapy is the choice of treatment if the patient can accept the association between emotions and physical complaints. Therapist will help the patient understand the link between mind and body and how certain beliefs are causing the person to have the symptoms in a pronounced fashion. They will help them with affirmations, self talk, Cognitive behavioral techniques to reframe cognitive distortions and thus reduce the intensity of symptoms. They might also give them education on how to handle stress, cope with stressors and help them learn relaxation , and meditation techniques to be able to have control over thoughts and promote healthy breathing techniques. Therapist needs to be objective and empathic. The therapist generally emphasizes and helps the patient live with the symptoms, improve overall functioning at home and work and avoid dependence on pain killers or addictive medications like benzodiazepines. Therapist also helps build socialization skills. Additionally, the therapist  also provides insight into the connection between emotions and physical symptoms. Once the patient develops this insight, he or she is more likely to ignore the symptoms and begin to enjoy life, interact socially and become more functioning in all the domains of their life, including, work and home.

There are many centers in the United States which allow people with chronic pain to work with a multidisciplinary treatment team of specialists. Biofeedback, relaxation therapy, hypnosis, and acupuncture are also available at these pain treatment centers to help patients manage their stress and control pain. It is a good idea to seek professional help as opposed to suffering, feeling depressed, and avoiding social contact.
Hypnosis can also address psychosomatic disorders. Please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.

 

Reference: The Women’s Concise Guide to Emotional Well-Being by Karen J. Carlson, M.D., Stephanie A.Eisenstat, M.D., and Terra Ziporyn, Ph.D.

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