Disorders and Treatment
- Mental Illness
- Bipolar Disorder
- Mood Disorders
- Borderline Personality
- Mental Health Diagnosis
- Mental Health Treatments
- Alternative Meds
- Case Studies
While many psychiatric disorders are relatively easy to diagnose, due to a pattern of symptoms that is fairly straightforward, others are much more challenging. One group of disorders that fits into the latter category is somatoform disorders.
Individuals who have a somatoform disorder experience various symptoms, such as physical pain, for which there is no clear medical reason. Unfortunately, since a symptom such as pain can be caused by many different things, those evaluating the patient are often hesitant to make the determination that the pain is psychological in nature. And of course, no patient wants to be told that “the pain is all in your head”, especially when to him or her, it is very real and causing significant distress.
Sadly, individuals with a somatoform disorder become increasingly frustrated. From their perspective, no one is listening and able to make an accurate diagnosis. Not to mention, they’re unable to get relief for their symptoms. Questioning their doctor’s competence, they often start going from one doctor to the next demanding lab work and other tests that they don’t need. Many start to believe that they have all sorts of medical conditions that they don’t actually have.
People who suffer from these disorders typically become preoccupied with their health. They can be very difficult patients for the doctors and other providers who see them. When they don’t get the answers or help that they seek, they can become quite agitated. Distrustful of healthcare professionals because of their experience, they often don’t follow through with any recommendations that are made.
To accurately diagnose a somatoform disorder, a thorough physical examination must take place to rule out an underlying medical cause of the patient’s symptoms. Once the doctor has determined that the patient is physically healthy, he or she may recommend a psychological evaluation by a mental health professional. This is typically the case if the doctor suspects the presence of a somatoform disorder.
A mental health professional will conduct a thorough evaluation as well. By doing so, he or she can determine if the patient’s pattern of symptoms is better explained by another psychiatric disorder before making a diagnosis of somatoform disorder.
With somatoform disorders, there is no obvious pay off for the symptoms. The patient is not faking or exaggerating, and is genuinely anxious or fearful regarding their symptoms. Sadly, the anxiety they experience not only helps maintain the disorder, it often makes their symptoms worse.
In the current edition of the DSM - the diagnostic manual used to diagnose psychiatric disorders - there are several different types of somatoform disorders. These include:
As a general rule, therapy is the most effective treatment for somatoform disorders. Since these disorders usually involve underlying irrational thoughts and beliefs, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – which focuses on helping people identify and change errors in their thinking - is believed to be one of the most effective types of therapy for these disorders. Medication may be used to alleviate concurrent symptoms of anxiety or depression, but is usually not an effective form of treatment for somatoform disorders.
The information provided on the PsyWeb.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of PsyWeb.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.