Imagine being in pain or having some form of physical distress and every time you visit the doctor; they can find anything wrong.
You appear healthy, but the physical symptoms or problems you are experiencing are very real to you. This is close to how a person with somatic symptom disorder feels. Thoughts are focused and constant on the symptoms, the cause of which cannot be diagnosed by a doctor. On the other hand, a medical condition may already exist, but the response to symptoms are similar, producing a focus on symptoms that is not normal.
These focused thoughts can, in turn, lead to anxiety and ultimately affect your normal day to day living. This can then negatively affect family members and lead to problems at work.
Somatic Symptom Disorder can occur in children, teenagers as well as adults. Children might experience the disorder more intensely, as their understanding is limited and are unsure of what is happening to them. This type of disorder can also cause depression in adolescents. Teenage mental health is already fragile at this stage, so seeking medical help as soon as possible is important.
To diagnose the disorder, doctors need to do several tests. This helps to rule out any other causes before providing a proper diagnosis.
When to see a doctor
When dealing with physical symptoms, this should always be taken seriously as it could become serious if ignored. If you are uncertain as to why you are having certain symptoms, go and see a doctor. Your doctor can then help you discover what the problem is and if somatic symptom disorder is suspected, they can then refer you to a psychiatrist or mental health clinic.
Just because a doctor cannot diagnose a physical problem, doesn’t automatically mean you have somatic symptom disorder. The disorder is mainly identified by the way a person thinks. To what extent do you think about your physical symptoms? Is it overwhelming and taking over your every thought?
Do you find that your thoughts, emotions and behaviour are beginning to affect your day to day life? These are major red flags when it comes to diagnosing somatic symptom disorder.
Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder
In the case of a person having an existing medical condition, the symptoms can be described as being worse than what they normally are. In other cases, the symptoms can manifest without there being any obvious medical problem. One of the main symptoms experienced by many of those suffering from the disorder is pain. The pain can be felt in many areas of the body including the chest, stomach, arms, legs and joints.
More symptoms can include:
- Headaches, dizziness or feelings of general weakness
- Digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Symptoms can be mild to severe and can often include more than one
- Many also often experience anxiety and depression
As mentioned, the thoughts and feelings of those suffering from Somatic Symptom Disorder can be overwhelming.
Some behaviours and thoughts can include:
- Constantly thinking and worrying over the symptoms
- Taking a normal bodily sensation and seeing it as something more serious
- Thinking that the symptoms are serious, even after doctors cannot find anything wrong.
- The person may feel that the doctors haven’t done enough to discover the problem.
- Checking and re-checking your body for anything wrong
- Repeatedly visiting doctors without getting any results or satisfaction. Visits may even be making the problem worse, due to continuing frustration, stress and worry.
- Exhibiting severe symptoms for a medical problem that isn’t normally that bad.
If a medical practitioner suspects a somatic symptom disorder, they would usually be looking at how a person reacts to the symptoms and not really at the physical symptoms. The purpose of this is to find out how much the symptoms are affecting a person’s daily life and if steps need to be taken further for treatment.
Somatic symptom disorder can also fall under Adolescent mental health disorders. Adolescents may end up seeing several different medical practitioners, having many different tests done. In the end, oftentimes, there are no conclusive results. Just remember, the symptoms remain very real to the person suffering from them. This can be very distressing and may lead to significant effects, which can lead to difficulties arising in the person’s day to day life.