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What Are the Different Types of Somatization?

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  • Written By: Robert Ferguson
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Somatoform disorders result from psychological problems that take on a physical form in an individual, meaning the individual experiences bodily symptoms that have no physical cause. They are involuntary experiences and are not intentionally produced. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders® (DSM-IV®) acknowledges five types of somatization, including body dysmorphic disorder, pain disorder, hypochondriasis, conversion disorder and somatization disorder.

An individual diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder is preoccupied with an imagined or exaggerated flaw in her physical appearance. Although many are considered attractive by others, those with this disease consider themselves ugly or hideous. Most individuals with this form of somatization spend hours a day compulsively looking at their reflection in the mirror, obsessing over their imagined flaws. Often someone with body dysmorphic disorder is diagnosed with other psychological disorders, including social phobia, severe depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse.

Psychological factors effect the occurrence, maintenance, and level of severity of physical pain in pain disorders. The pain experienced causes significant stress and impairment in the individual, causing him to seek medical attention. A physician examining him, however, is often unable to identify physical problems causing the pain.

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Accurate diagnosis of this type of somatization is difficult because pain is a subjective experience; there is no way to objectively measure someone’s pain. Traditional medical treatments often do not help with pain disorder, resulting in patients self-medicating to ease their pain. Many individuals with this condition develop prescription drug addictions or alcohol abuse.

Hypochondriasis is diagnosed when an individual is preoccupied with fears of having a serious disease. These fears must persist for more than six months despite medical reassurances that no serious disease or illness exists. This form of somatization is rarely diagnosed, and is often considered a symptom of other mental illnesses rather than a discrete disorder. Hypochondriasis is linked with severe anxiety and mood disorders.

Conversion disorder results from a sudden failure of sensory or motor functions; for example, loss of vision or paralysis. These symptoms suggest an illness related to neurobiological damage, but medical tests confirm the bodily organs or nervous systems are healthy. Conversion disorder results from severe stress or conflict in a person’s life. There are no psychological treatments known to reduce the symptoms of this disorder.

Somatization disorder, also referred to as Briquet’s syndrome, is characterized by chronic pain that has no apparent physical explanation but still causes the individual to seek medical attention. The patient must have a variety of physical symptoms that cause impairment. People with this disorder frequently visit several different physicians for one specific symptom and try many different medications in an attempt to cure their imagined illness. Substance abuse, personality disorders, and anxiety are usually present in an individual diagnosed with somatization disorder.

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