Somatic Symptom Disorder

PsychologyAbnormal Psychology

People with mental illness often experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, muscle tension, and more. These are known as somatic symptoms, also referred to as psychogenic or psychosomatic symptoms. Physical symptoms are known to be caused by stress or worry but can also indicate other mental illnesses. People with conversion disorder may also experience these physical conditions directly related to stress. A person with this condition frequently has excessive concerns regarding their wellbeing and may display strange or unusual behaviors resulting from these concerns. Health issues grow so severe that they become a fundamental part of a person's identity and dominate their interactions with others. People having somatic symptom disorders seek medical therapy at a high rate, although such care rarely alleviates their discomfort.

What is Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD)?

Introduced in 2013, somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is a diagnosis with the publication of the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It eliminated the classifications of somatization disorder, undifferentiated somatoform disorder, hypochondriasis, and pain disorder; the majority formerly had these diagnoses are now classified as SSD in DSM-5. The purpose for the renaming and classification is that all of these illnesses entail the presentation of physical symptoms and concern about the medical condition, whereas Somatoform disorders were defined by the concept of "Medically Unexplained Symptoms" (MUS).

Category in the DSM 5 includes


Somatic Symptom Disorder symptoms can differ from person to person. They can be physical, psychological, behavioral, or a combination of all.

  • Physical symptoms are fatigue, digestive issues, and headaches. People with SSD may also experience unexplained bleeding, dizziness, fainting, or chest pain. They may have trouble sleeping and may have a decrease in appetite.
  • Psychological symptoms of SSD can cause anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and depression. Individuals with the disorder face trouble distinguishing between real or imagined symptoms, which often leads to isolation, confusion, and even hallucinations.
  • Behavioral symptoms of SSD can cause Excessive concern with physical symptoms, physical health issues are the primary focus of life, constantly seeing a doctor, catastrophizing the ailment by reporting typical symptoms or discomfort to the doctor, and Insane concern about medical diseases that have previously been ruled out, Unhappy with any medical care and suspecting that the doctor is not taking it seriously.

The most common symptom is pain, but regardless of one’s symptoms, individuals have excessive thoughts, feelings, or actions associated with these symptoms, which cause major issues, make it challenging to work, and can also be disabling. Among these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are:

  • Constant concern about possible sickness
  • Normal bodily feelings are interpreted as an indication of severe physical condition
  • Fear of major symptoms, despite the absence of proof
  • Believing that physical feelings are harmful or dangerous
  • People feel that physical examination and intervention have been insufficient
  • Concerned that physical activity might harm their body
  • Monitoring their body for abnormalities regularly
  • Frequent health-care appointments that do not alleviate or increase current concerns
  • Unresponsiveness to medical treatment or high sensitivity to medication's negative effects
  • Experiencing much more significant impairments than is typical from a medical condition.

Diagnosis of Somatic Symptom Disorder

The first step in diagnosing a Somatic Symptom Disorder is to rule out other causes of symptoms and find the root cause for it. The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) highlights the following criteria for the diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder:

  • Individuals experience one or more somatic symptoms that are distressing or cause problems in their daily life, such as pain or exhaustion.
  • Individuals have frequent and excessive thoughts about the importance of their symptoms, they have a persistently high degree of anxiety about their health or symptoms, or they dedicate an inordinate amount of energy and attention to their symptoms or health issues.
  • Individuals have been experiencing symptoms that have bothered them for more than six months, although the symptoms might vary.


As with many mental health issues, there is no one cause of SSD. However, the condition has been connected mainly to childhood maltreatment and trauma.

Some risk factors make an individual more susceptible than others to developing the illness. They are as follows:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Sexual abuse
  • Abuse of drugs and alcohol
  • Suffered from chronic illnesses as a child
  • Other psychological problems, such as anxiety or depression

Treatment Options for SSD

The primary aim of treatment is to help individuals suffering from somatic symptom disorder. Secondly, enhance their daily functioning by reducing their physical symptoms and helping them build the ability to cope with them. The best method to treat the underlying mental health condition is done through therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination.

  • Medication - Anti-depressant helps to reduce the symptoms associated with pain, anxiety, and depression which are often comorbid with somatic symptom disorder. Such as, Amitriptyline, Sertraline etc.
  • Psychotherapy - Various studies have shown that CBT cognitive behavioral therapy has helped with significant improvement in an individual's functioning. It also helped reduce other comorbid conditions associated with somatic symptom disorder.
  • Relaxation techniques - Mindfulness, yoga, and other breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety related to physical symptoms and also help to reduce levels of stress hormones in the individual's body.
  • Lifestyle changes - Physical exercise, participating in activities involved in an individual's social and personal lives, seeking out new hobbies, practicing self-care, and avoiding alcohol or other recreational drugs are beneficial in such cases.


Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is a condition in which an individual experiences physical symptoms that are unrelated to any medical condition. Health issues grow so severe that they become a fundamental part of a person's identity and dominate their interactions with others. People having somatic symptom disorders seek medical therapy at a high rate, although such care rarely alleviates their discomfort. Symptoms of a Somatic Symptom Disorder usually have no apparent cause, but they are real. Sometimes, it has been found best to get psychotherapy and medication for faster recovery. Somatic symptom disorder is a treatable condition with the proper treatment plan and coping methods. Being deliberate about one's treatment is critical, and the very first step is acknowledging that they require assistance.


Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47