27. May 2021
Somatoform disorders are manifested by physical complaints for which no physical cause can be found. Affected persons have usually already undergone all conceivable medical diagnostic procedures without clear indications of an underlying physical illness. Only the holistic view of the clinical picture shows: A complex interplay between physical and psychological processes underlies the symptoms. This realization paves the way for interdisciplinary treatment, which holds great prospects for success. Clarification of terms: the term “somatoform” means symptoms that take shape (soma) at the body level. However, the cause of the symptoms is not found in the body.
In principle, any physical complaint can be an expression of a somatoform disorder. Nevertheless, three overarching areas to which most symptoms can be assigned:
Other main features of somatoform disorders are the severe limitations in daily life, the long-term and the suffering pressure. Sufferers have often been searching for years for a physical explanation of their symptoms. Often they have already consulted countless specialists and made quite a few attempts at treatment. Sufferers suffer greatly from their limitations, and psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety– or compulsive disorders often develop as a result.
Somatoform disorders require special sensitivity among patients, physicians, therapists, and health care professionals. Not infrequently, affected persons are confronted with prejudices such as “That’s just a simulation,” or “You just have to pull yourself together now,” or “Nothing more can be done.” Feelings of shame, strong frustration and the constant change between doctors (also called “doctor hopping”) are the result. It is important for everyone involved to keep reminding themselves that the symptoms are real. Those affected feel them and suffer massively from them.
Psychological component is often rejected
When doctors bring up psychological causes in the course of diagnosis, it is common for sufferers to feel resentment at first. Medical diagnoses are still perceived as less stigmatizing than psychiatric diagnoses. Virtually all patients want a clear, simple, and physical explanation for their symptoms, which then leads to an equally clear and effective treatment. However, as complex as our bodies and minds are, so can illnesses be. Psyche and body influence each other and only when this connection is taken into account does the path for treatment pave itself. This process requires a gentle approach and a trusting doctor-patient relationship.
The genesis of somatoform disorders is as complex as the clinical picture itself. The process of emergence may begin with an actual physical illness. At this point, the symptoms are still traceable to a physical disease state. If the symptoms remain after the actual cause has healed, a somatoform disorder may develop. However, other causative factors are also conceivable: Medication side effects, everyday stresses or psychological stress factors can play a role. But how do physical symptoms become entrenched?
High sensitivity to bodily sensations
It is often seen that people suffering from somatoform disorder are sensitive to bodily processes. Any slightest deviation from normal is registered and perceived as unpleasant or threatening. The body complaints are then reinforced by these thought patterns and interpreted as a physical illness. Often a vicious circle of avoidance, protection and withdrawal begins, which in turn massively limits the quality of life.
The vicious circle of somatoform disorders
Due to the strong complaints, doctors are visited more and more often. However, most often the diagnosis or treatment does not lead to the desired success. This leads to frustration, disappointment about one’s own body and to strong emotional stress. In addition, those affected are often dissatisfied with the health care system, discontinue treatments and try to find new ways. A strong focus on the subject of illness and the symptoms themselves set in.
Fortunately, nowadays patients with somatoform are no longer labeled as “incurable” but can seek psychosomatic treatment. This treatment combines medical, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic knowledge.
Fortunately, more and more practitioners, including family physicians, are being trained in the psychosomatic view of body complaints. In this way, somatoform disorders are detected earlier and affected persons receive adequate treatment more quickly. The LIMES Schlosskliniken are a particularly suitable point of contact here. As specialist clinics for psychosomatics and psychotherapy, the combination of medical and psychological expertise is a top priority at our clinics.
Categories: Somatoform disorders