What is a psychosomatic disorder?
It is a disorder wherein physical symptoms develop due to mental factors. The term "psyche" refers to the word "mind" and "somatic" means the observed physical signs and symptoms of the disease. Every disease has physical and mental components, so most diseases are usually psychosomatic. However, the disorders present in each individual may vary. Physical illnesses such as eczema or psoriasis may bother people leading to depression and other types of sickness. However, it also depends on each person's mentality and temperament.
Sometimes, physical illnesses can be caused by mental conditions. A good example would be an individual with an eating disorder triggered by depression. Diseases such as stomach ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, hypertension, and heart disease are psychosomatic disorders. In one study, it was found that myocardial infarction is directly caused by depression and anxiety.
A psychosomatic disorder is an illness that connects the mind and body. In psychosomatic disorders, psychological tension affects the physiological functioning of the body, which may either cause diseases or just worsen preexisting ones. It also improperly stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the normal functioning of the internal organs.
The physical symptoms can be worsened by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. The severity of the disease is also dependent on a person's current mental status. Psychosomatic disorders are generally classified into three forms:
- First Form - Both mental illness and physical disease are experienced. The management and symptoms of such illnesses get more complicated.
- Second Form - Medical illness or certain treatments can cause psychiatric issues. For instance, cancer and its treatment may cause depression.
- Third Form - Also regarded as a somatoform disorder. This psychiatric disorder is displayed through physical issues. It means that instead of a medical cause, the physical symptoms are due to psychological factors.
Symptoms of Psychosomatic Disorders
The following are symptoms of psychosomatic disorders:
- Fast heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
- Excessive fatigue or body weakness
- Knot in the stomach
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- Neurological problems
It is not yet entirely clear how mental problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression may trigger the physical symptoms. There is still ongoing research to fully understand the link between the psyche and symptoms of a disease. According to some studies, when a person is anxious, stressed, or depressed, the activity of nerve impulses also increases, which could be a contributing factor for the physical symptoms. Sometimes, when you are anxious, physical symptoms are triggered due to the release of adrenaline and epinephrine.
Types of Psychosomatic Disorders
Psychosomatic disorders are divided into seven different types based on its characteristics. Most of the disorders are caused by emotional stress.
- Undifferentiated Somatoform Disorder - For a minimum of six months, people may experience one or more symptoms, which include fatigue, pain, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal issues.
- Unspecified Somatoform Disorder - Patients may mistakenly believe that they are pregnant due to the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, which include fetal movements, nausea, labor pain, and termination of menstruation.
- Somatization Disorder - This disorder usually occurs in people aged 18-30 years old. For years, they experience unexplained symptoms, which include neurological symptoms, pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, sexual symptoms, and menstrual symptoms. People may experience physical complaints that do not have a physical cause such as headaches, diarrhea, or premature ejaculation.
- Conversion Disorder - In this disorder, an individual experiences symptoms such as drooping of eyelids, sudden sickness, inability to make sounds, unconsciousness, vision problems, and loss of sensation in one or more body parts. Neurological symptoms that do not have physical causes may also affect people's body movements and senses. The neurological symptoms include seizures, blindness, or paralysis.
- Hypochondriasis - In this disorder, patients often fear that they have a serious medical disease that can harm their body. They usually consult multiple doctors to prove that they have a dangerous illness. People with this disorder constantly fear that they have a serious medical condition. They tend to exaggerate minor symptoms and normal body functions as fatal or life-threatening.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder - In this type of mental disorder, people usually feel that their appearance needs to be improved. They believe that their body is defective and often resort to cosmetic surgery. An individual with this type of disorder gets preoccupied or obsessed with minor flaws such as small breasts, wrinkles, or specific body shapes or sizes. Such flaws may affect the quality of their life and their ability to normally function. Their flaws may also cause them severe anxiety.
- Pain Disorder - For over a long period of time, an individual may experience pain in one or more body parts without known causes.
How the disorder evolves is not yet known. Mental stress may be one of the causes since it induces hyperactivity of nerve impulses that send signals from the brain to different parts of the body. It may put the body in a state of anxiousness due to the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream. The following factors may also trigger the disorder:
- Irregular Biological Conditions - Psychosomatic disorders may be caused by amino acid levels in the serum or alterations in glucose metabolism.
- Genetics - According to some studies, the disorder may be directly caused by genetic aberrations.
- Influence of Stress - Includes trauma, frequent illness, guilt, anger, depression, abuse, fear, and insecurity. These factors may increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder.
- Family Circumstances - Other triggers of psychosomatic disorders are the behavior of parents toward their children, the absence of parents, and relationship difficulties.
Psychological issues can greatly influence certain medical conditions, which include:
- Diabetes - The chances of stress-related hypertension is more commonly seen in patients with type 2 diabetes. The condition can be exacerbated due to the same stress factors of hypertension.
- Cancer - This deadly disease may develop due to many causative factors. According to studies, the ability of a tumor to grow and spread is affected by the psychological stress experienced by individuals.
- Heart Disease and Arteriosclerosis - According to some studies, there is a link between coronary heart disease and other risk factors such as stress, depression, and anxiety. These factors play a major role in causing such diseases.
- Hypertension - The levels of blood pressure are indirectly related to some psychological triggers such as frequent stress, negative emotions, certain life events and social factors such as economic status.
- Gastrointestinal Problems - A person's stressful life events are related to the formation of peptic ulcers.
- Respiratory Problems - Along with other etiological influences, one major factor that may induce bronchial asthma is emotional stress.
- Psychological factors may significantly influence an individual's medical condition.
- Stress can greatly affect the development and severity of a disease along with recovery from the illness.
- Psychological factors may interfere with certain treatments and create more problems.
- The severity of a medical condition may increase due to anxiety.
- Stress tends to generate many risk factors along with health issues such as headaches, hypertension, and diabetes.
The most challenging part of dealing with psychosomatic disorders is its treatment. Once the physical cause is ruled out, then the next major step is to establish a trusting and supportive relationship between the patient and the doctor.
One of the most important parts of the treatment process is having regular checkups. Individuals with the disorder may be referred to a psychiatrist for a more effective management of their condition. In relieving underlying psychological factors, cognitive behavioral therapy might be effective. A part of this therapy is for patients to learn how to manage stress in a healthy way.
Treatment with medications is helpful if a specific mental disorder such as depression is identified. Despite several efforts of cognitive behavioral therapy, the symptoms of psychosomatic disorders will continue. The aim of treatment is to help people achieve symptomatic relief. However, medications are not always helpful. There are different techniques that can help control the symptoms, which include regular checkups and stress management techniques. Follow the treatment plan that is tailored to your condition.
A common and major cause of psychosomatic disorders is emotional stress. The body can get affected by the state of mind. A balance should be maintained between the emotional and physical treatment since the disorder is not physical. The treatment options recommended for psychosomatic disorders are:
- Yoga - It includes meditation and relaxation exercises. Such techniques can help cure psychosomatic disorders. Mental issues can be relieved by taking part in stress-busting activities such as yoga. Mental conditions such as stress and anxiety usually trigger psychosomatic disorders. On a daily basis, simple breathing exercises and asanas can help relax the mind. Yoga provides the body a calming effect, wherein individuals become more aware along with learning to accept themselves and their surroundings. When it comes to the treatment of psychosomatic disorders, yoga has been shown to be as effective as medications.
- Medications - Certain drugs are prescribed to eliminate the physical symptoms. But since drugs can only provide temporary relief, many patients are referred to psychiatrists for therapy. If a person is anxious, a relapse of the physical symptoms would most likely to happen. Treatment is also necessary for psychological symptoms. The types of medications usually used are serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, atypical antipsychotics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and herbal medications. The doctor may use different drug combinations depending on the patient’s age, duration of the disease, the severity of the condition, and response to treatment.
- Fasting Therapy - This type of treatment in Japan is well-known when it comes to relieving the psychological and physical symptoms of the disorder. According to this therapy, the fasting process, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system are regulated. Thus, a balance in the mental and physical health of an individual is re-established.
- Hypnosis - Hypnosis can be used to treat conditions that are related to psychosomatic disorders such as migraines, gastrointestinal issues, and asthma. The main goal of the treatment is to find within the subconscious mind of the patient the solution to the physical symptoms. To resolve the underlying emotional problem, long-term hypnotherapy is needed. In the past, many issues of fear, anger, and dependency have been resolved.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - According to CBT, a reaction to a situation depends on how the situation is being perceived. The thought of an individual is integrated with the individual’s physical sensation, emotions, behavior, and environment. Thus, in a particular situation, how an individual behaves and how the physical state is influenced by the thought process is directed by these factors. When this method is used, the patient is able to holistically think, which alleviates health-related anxieties.