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Symptoms that may disappear as well as how they came. Many times we think directly about a physical cause, for example that there is a “virus” and we are incubating it, that something we have eaten or that we have low blood pressure or lack of sugar has mischaracterized us. Some symptoms even alert us to something more serious, like a serious illness. But many times we will go to the doctor and he will discard physical illness and will not find the real cause.
Sometimes the cause will not be “tangible” or demonstrable, it will be our mind that is creating that symptom, although we are alien to it.
It is defined as a physical illness that is believed to be caused or aggravated by mental factors. These people show physical symptoms that do not seem to be linked to any specific disease or injury but the symptoms are caused by social or psychological stress.
These disorders are also called somatoform disorders(somatization is one of the different types of somatoform disorders, others are for example hypochondria or conversion, although today we will not enter them). Some physical illnesses are believed to be particularly prone to be aggravated by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. For example: psoriasis, eczema, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease. But we are also talking of course of symptoms completely caused by a mental factor without previous physical alteration.
In a study on the subject of the 1000 patients who were analyzed over a period of 3 years and who had 14 common symptoms (including chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, headache, edema, back pain, shortness of breath, insomnia, abdominal pain, numbness, impotence, weight loss, cough and constipation) only in 16% of the cases was a physical cause found.
This does not mean that only 16% of all these complaints have had a physical cause and the other 84% have a psychosomatic cause, but rather it means that 84% of the symptoms had no known physical cause .
Other studies (like this one ) suggest that up to 20% of the cases that come to primary care for physical symptoms would be related to causes of psychological origin.
The symptoms vary widely and can affect different organs. These are the most common symptoms :
Pain in different regions of the body (head, back, chest, abdomen, lower abdomen).
Cardiocirculatory disorders: shortness of breath, feeling of tension, stinging or feeling of tightness in the chest, arrhythmias.
Gastrointestinal disorders: irritation of the intestine or stomach with nausea, feeling full, abdominal pain, irregular stools.
Symptoms of the urinary tract: irritable bladder, frequent pain when urinating, difficulty urinating.
How does somatization occur?
The exact manner in which a person’s mind can cause certain physical symptoms remains unclear. How a person’s mind can affect real physical illnesses is not known with certainty . Certain symptoms are easier to understand than others. The mind controls the responses of the sympathetic system (which is responsible for the innervation of the smooth muscles, the heart muscle and the glands of the whole organism), and those of the parasympathetic system (which controls the functions and involuntary acts, takes care of the production and restoration of body energy) and hormonal. An external stressor can affect the mind so that it alters the functioning that regulates other body areas.
So stress affects the neurotransmitter and consequently the hormonal response, the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic, etc … And how these systems regulate the functioning of the body and organs , any alteration (especially if it has a certain duration) can alter the body and present observable symptoms such as redness in the skin, pain, dizziness, nausea, etc … In addition there is evidence that the brain has the ability to affect certain cells of the immune system , something involved in various physical diseases and their deterioration or vulnerability.
Treatment of somatization
These disorders are usually not treated with medications unless they are associated in some way with some other well-defined psychiatric illness such as major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or panic disorder. Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice.
The therapist will help the patient understand the relationship between the mind and the body and how certain beliefs are causing the person to have those symptoms in a pronounced way . Cognitive-behavioral techniques will be applied to reconsider the cognitive distortions and in this way reduce the intensity of the symptoms.
They will also be given psychoeducation guidelines on how to manage stress. Psychotherapy has the advantage of avoiding analgesics or addictive medications such as benzodiazepines, which can be a problem if the patient becomes dependent on them excessively.