Defining Somatization Disorder
Somatization disorder is a somatoform disorder in which patients complain about recurring instances of pain, gastric abnormalities, and sexual and neurological symptoms. Somatization disorder is also called hysteria in colloquial terms. The complaints begin well before the patient turns 30 and these complaints last for weeks to years. The patient may seek and get treated for the complaints multiple times during this period. Patients with this disorder usually end up consulting many doctors for their condition and are frequently dissatisfied with the results. In most cases, after a brief period of relief after a treatment, the patients may start experiencing the abnormalities again. By definition, these symptoms cannot be explained by a general medical condition or substance abuse, or, if there is an associated medical condition, the symptoms are much more severe than expected.
Somatization disorder is a very rare condition and is prevalent only amongst 0.2% of the entire population. Moreover, it is tough to differentiate between someone with a general medical condition and someone who is suffering from Hysteria instead. In many extreme cases, the patients may require external care, causing a lot of stress and dependency. Some other forms of this disorder are: Conversion disorder, Pain disorder and Hypochondriasis Disorder.
Signs and Symptoms
- Recurrent back and joint pain
- Neurological problems
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- Sexual complaints
Causes and Risk Factors
Since this is a very rare condition, less research has been carried out in this area. Consequently, there is little literature in the public domain that can explain the causes of Hysteria. There is widespread debate about the pathopsychology of somatization disorder.
Most scientists agree that somatization disorder happens in response to external stress. This theory postulates that the human brain has a finite capacity for coping with stress and anxiety. Therefore, the human body starts experiencing physical symptoms when the brain is unable to cope with external stress and anxiety. This can lead to disorders in the nervous, digestive and reproductive systems. Irritable bowel syndrome has recently been linked to somatization disorders and scientists have found a connection between stress and immune system. This theory is particularly helpful in explaining why depression is associated with Hysteria and why it is more pronounced in women as opposed to men.
Scientists also believe that the disorder occurs because there is an increased sensitivity towards internal physical sensations. This hypersensitivity leads to frequent complaints about physical disorders and even mild changes in the body’s physical conditions can create a lot of stress in the patient’s mind. Under this theory, somatization can be linked to stress theory.
Finally, the third explanation for somatization lies in the hypothesis that some people react exaggeratedly to their own physical problems and most of their illnesses are not as dangerous and threatening as they interpret.
Individuals are exposed to certain risks:
- Aggressive and restless behavior
- Distress and dependence on others
- Domestic violence
- Substance abuse
- Reaction to medication
- Excessive spending on medical bills
Like most behavioral disorders, somatization disorder may be treated by administering cognitive behavioral therapy on the patients in a rehabilitation center. CBT helps the patients cope with their condition by enabling them to change their “natural” behavior. This helps them limit the signs and symptoms of their condition.
Some doctors also administer antidepressants to the patients in cases of extreme restlessness. Scheduled narcotics are also used to keep the patients from getting too aggressive and restless during treatment for Hysteria.