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Somatoform Disorders

Somatoform Disorders

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Description:

This lesson will identify, describe and differentiate the primary symptom(s) for somatoform disorder and conversion disorder.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

This lesson is going to cover somatoform disorders by looking at:

  1. Hypochondriasis
  2. Somatization
  3. Pain Disorder
  4. Conversion Disorder
  5. Treatment

1. Hypochondriasis

A somatoform disorder is a category of mental disorders where a person has or at least says that they have physical symptoms of a problem without any kind of physical cause. The brain Itself is causing the person to feel like they have physical symptoms.

People with a somatoform disorder are not faking it. This is unlike something like Munchausen Syndrome, where a person fakes a medical problem to get attention from others. Somatoform disorders can take different forms in different kinds of people.

Hypochondriasis is a widely known somatoform disorder where a person interprets small, generally normal bodily functions as a symptom of a more serious illness that they think that they have, and this person is absolutely sure of the truth that they have a physical illness, even though they don't actually have it. A hypochondriac, oftentimes, will visit the doctor frequently. They will also be constantly anxious and concerned about their well-being.

Term to Know

    • Hypochondriasis
    • A somatoform disorder when a person interprets small, normal bodily functions as symptoms of serious illness.

2. Somatization

A somatization disorder is when a person complains about multiple physical and mental processes without any kind of physical cause. The person may visit the doctor like a hypochondriac, and will have a constant feeling of being sick. This is something that's generally long term, and pervasive. It displays itself in a variety of symptoms such as pain in multiple places throughout their body, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty swallowing, sexual dysfunction, or mental problems that don’t have a physical cause. Somatization disorders cover a wide range of problems that a person says they have.

Term to Know

    • Somatization Disorder
    • A somatoform disorder when a person complains about multiple physical and mental problems, but without any physical causes.

3. Pain Disorder

A pain disorder is where a person experiences chronic and, oftentimes, serious pain in one or more places throughout their bodies. This can be debilitating. This type of disorder has a psychological origin, not a physical one, as well. A pain disorder can last anywhere from a few hours to years. It can be something a person lives with for a significant portion of their lives.

Term to Know

    • Pain Disorder
    • A somatoform disorder where a person experiences chronic and often serious pain in one or more place, but which is psychological in origin, not physical.

Pain disorders often result from some kind of accident or an illness that a person has. The person thinks that they should be feeling some kind of physical pain, but it actually isn't caused by that accident or illness. It is thought that this is a result of some kind of significant stress. The person may be taking that psychological harm or stress and converting it physically into some kind of symptom.

Pain disorders are more likely to appear in collectivistic cultures like those in Asia or Mexico. These are cultures where people are more focused on the groups and on the people around them.


4. Conversion Disorder

Conversion disorder is a type of somatoform disorder where a person converts the anxiety or severe emotional problems that they have into some kind of physical symptoms. This can often take the form of some kind of sensory or physical disability.

ExampleA person with a conversion disorder might say that they are unable to move their limbs. The person cannot do so, even when asked or forced to. A person can also suddenly become deaf, blind, or dumb.

Term to Know

    • Conversion Disorder
    • A type of somatoform disorder where a person “converts” anxiety or severe emotional problems into physical symptoms.

A person with a conversion disorder, many times, has a lack of concern for this physical problem itself. Someone with this type of disorder may suddenly go blind, but won’t be incredibly worried about the fact that they are blind. They might, however, become very defensive or concerned about those underlying psychological harms that caused this conversion disorder to occur.


5. Treatment

Treatment of somatoform disorders may involve the use of drugs or medical treatments, but without any kind of physical problems, most of the times these treatments are ineffective. One of the most effective ways of treating somatoform disorders is with the use of psychotherapy. A person learns to recognize the unhealthy thought patterns and ways of coping they have. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which has proven to be very effective in the treatment of these disorders.

Summary

A somatoform disorder is a category of mental disorders where a person has physical symptoms without a physical cause. Hypochondriasis is when a person interprets normal bodily functions as symptoms of a serious illness. Somatization is when a person says they have multiple physical or mental problems without any physical cause. Pain disorders are when a person physically experiences chronic and often serious pain that is not physical. Conversion disorder is a physical symptom caused by an anxiety or emotional problem. This can take the form of a serious disability. Treatment for these types of disorders include both medical treatment, which is usually ineffective, and psychotherapy.

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia Author Erick Taggart

Key Terms

Hypochondriasis

A somatoform disorder when a person interprets small, normal bodily functions as symptoms of serious illness.


Somatization Disorder

A somatoform disorder when a person complains about multiple physical and mental problems, but without any physical causes.


Pain Disorder
A somatoform disorder where a person experiences chronic and often serious pain in one or more place, but which is psychological in origin, not physical.


Conversion Disorder
A type of somatoform disorder where a person “converts” anxiety or severe emotional problems into physical symptoms.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Hypochondriasis

    A somatoform disorder when a person interprets small, normal bodily functions as symptoms of serious illness.

  • Somatization Disorder

    A somatoform disorder when a person complains about multiple physical and mental problems, but without any physical causes.

  • Pain Disorder

    A somatoform disorder where a person experiences chronic and often serious pain in one or more place, but which is psychological in origin, not physical.

  • Conversion Disorder

    A type of somatoform disorder where a person “converts” anxiety or severe emotional problems into physical symptoms.