Somatoform disorder – treatment, symptoms and types

Somatoform disorder is a mental disorder that causes a person to have a significant focus on physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue which leads to extreme emotional distress and problem-solving.

somatoform disorder

It is also known as “somatic symptoms disorder” or “somatization disorder”

The symptoms being experienced might not be because of any medical diagnosis but the person feels them and they believe they are sick.

Types of somatic symptom disorders

There are different types of somatoform disorders based on what actually caused it.

The different types of somatoform disorders are;

  • Somatization disorder – Somatization disorder is usually experienced before 30 years and the symptoms can last for years. Symptoms can include; gastrointestinal distress, neurological problems, and sexual dysfunction
  • Undifferentiated somatoform disorder – This involves symptoms that show up for a period of six months but cannot be diagnosed for somatization disorder.
  • Conversion disorder – This involves unexplained symptoms involving neurological functions and sensory perceptions. A person can have symptoms such as; weakness or even paralysis, blindness can also be felt, hearing loss, and loss of sensation or numbness. All this symptoms are associated with somatoform disorders.
  • Pain disorder – Pain is the main symptom and psychological factors play a role in its onset, perception, severity, exacerbation, and continuation
  • Hypochondriasis – Having fear of being attacked by a life-threatening condition
  • Body dysmorphic disorder – Preoccupied focus on a perceived physical defect on the body or part of the body.
  • Somatoform disorder not otherwise specified – Unexplained physical symptoms that are misinterpreted or exaggerated.

Symptoms of somatoform disorder

The symptoms of somatoform disorders are;

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain on the abdomen and back joints
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Pain during urination
  • Cramping
  • Pelvic pain
  • Food intolerance

Causes of somatoform disorder

The actual cause of the somatoform disorder is not known but there are factors that have been linked and are possible to be the causes of somatoform disorder.

The causes of somatoform disorder or risk factors can include;

  • Familial risk factors – recent research has established that there is a possible risk some familial factors have to somatoform disorders. The familial risk factors perceived to be possible risk factors for this disease are; somatization of parents, organic disease of significant other, psychopathology of close family members, dysfunctional family climate, traumatic experiences in childhood and insecure family attachment
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Having stress

Diagnosis of somatoform disorders

The diagnosis of somatoform disorders can be hectic as there is no specific method that can be used to test for. There few approaches that doctors can use in the testing for somatoform disorders which include;

  • The patient health questionnaire – This is the most common method that is used in identifying the symptoms of somatoform disorders. The doctor will asses the symptoms from a patient and deduce the effect of each.
  • The somatic symptom scale-8 – This is a recently introduced tool for the diagnosis of somatoform disorders. It is almost similar to the patient health questionnaire. A recent study revealed that it is a reliable and valid self-report measure of somatoform symptoms.


Selecting an appropriate treatment method for somatoform disorders requires a clinician to take into consideration psychological, social, and cultural factors that influence somatic symptoms.

The various treatment procedures can include;

  • Cognitive behavior therapy – This is used to effectively treat somatoform disorders and medically unexplained symptoms. After using this treatment procedure on health anxious patients it was found that they had sustained symptomatic benefit for a period of two years, with no significant effect on total costs. The patients experienced reduced disability, psychological distress, and reduced physical symptoms.
  • Mindfulness-based therapy – This treatment method can be used for effective treatment of some aspects related to somatoform disorders. Patients who underwent this type of treatment were found to possess significant improvements and sustained overall symptoms such as depression and anxiety compared to control groups.
  • Pharmacotherapy – This is the use of drugs to reduce the effects of symptoms associated with somatoform disorders. Drugs that are commonly used are Amitriptyline, Fluoxetine and Monoamine oxidase inhibitors.  Amitriptyline can help in reducing morning stiffness, pain, sleep disorders, tender joints, and fatigue. Fluoxetine, also known as Prozac, can help in relieving symptoms such as morning stiffness, pain, sleep disorders, tender joints and can help improve global well-being and functional status which are all associated with somatoform disorders. After testing Monoamine inhibitors, it was discovered that they had no potential help in this treatment and therefore it was concluded that they should not be used.
  • St. John’s wort – This is a highly recommended method for the treatment of symptoms associated with somatoform disorders. It improves self-reported somatic symptoms and is very safe and easily tolerated.

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