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Somatization Disorder

What is somatization disorder?

Somatization disorder is a mental health problem in which someone has physical symptoms with a psychological cause. With this disorder, people have many health complaints that keep coming back and cannot be explained physically.

How does it occur?

Somatization disorder usually starts in the teen years or in early adulthood. It can begin in childhood. More women than men develop this disorder. It tends to run in families.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • feeling pain with many body functions
  • having nervous system symptoms, such as paralysis, fainting, or vision problems.
  • often having bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, or trouble eating

Reproductive system problems are common. Women may have irregular periods and men may have problems with erections. Women often have pain with menstruation, sexual intercourse, or urination.

Millions of people in the US have this disorder. Most deny it. Many believe they are not getting good medical care.

How is it diagnosed?

A therapist or healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and how long you have had them. He or she will ask how they affect your daily life.

You may also have other mental health problems. The most common are depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Often you have many surgeries and medical treatments without getting better before you are diagnosed.

How is it treated?

Psychiatric medicines may help your symptoms, especially if you have anxiety, depression, or obsessions (ideas that you can't stop thinking about).

Psychotherapy is also helpful. You may need to explore possible benefits from being seen as sick. For example, you may get extra attention and care from family and friends. Or you may avoid work or other responsibilities by being sick. Family members may also find therapy useful.

How long will the effects last?

This disorder is usually lifelong, with periods of getting better and getting worse.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Ask for patience and support from friends and family. Understanding the problem and making the correct diagnosis may take months. Patience and counseling over time are the most helpful.
  • Find a support group that meets regularly and offers social support.
  • If your friend or relative has one of these problems, don't insist that he or she ignore physical symptoms. Your loved one may withdraw from you if he or she feels pressured.

For more information, contact:

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
800-950-NAMI
Web site: http://www.nami.org

Mental Health America (formerly The National Mental Health Association or NMHA)
800-969-6642
Web site: http://www.NMHA.org

Written by Gayle Zieman, PhD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-17
Last reviewed: 2011-05-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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