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Somatization Disorder

(SD; Briquet’s Syndrome)

Definition

Individuals with somatization disorder report suffering constantly and often for many years from many physical illnesses. However, they do not have any specific, diagnosed medical illnesses that can explain the presence or severity of their symptoms. Still, these symptoms cause distress and negatively impact their ability to function day to day.

Causes

The cause of somatization disorder is not known.
There is no medical illness to explain the symptoms, so the disorder is believed to be due to mental and emotional causes. Somatization disorder may also be due to brain processing.

Risk Factors

Somatization disorder is more common in American women, but incidence varies among different cultures. Other factors that may increase your chance of developing somatization disorder include:

Symptoms

The physical suffering that people with somatization disorder experience usually begin in the early adult years. It can also begin during the teenage years. Individuals suffer for years, often leading to many unnecessary medical tests and treatments.
People with somatization disorder complain about many physical illnesses that involve many different parts of their body. A diagnosis of somatization disorder requires experiencing an assortment of symptoms that occur over several years.
Somatization disorder may cause:
Individuals with somatization disorder may:
It is important to understand that a person with somatization disorder is not intentionally producing or pretending to experience these physical complaints.

Diagnosis

There are no specific tests to determine whether or not a person has somatization disorder.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and mental health history. A physical exam will be done. It is important for your doctor to rule out other diagnoses that are sometimes misdiagnosed as somatization disorder.
If your doctor does not find anything serious in these tests, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to make you feel like you can control the symptoms and help you begin to function properly in work and social situations. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. It is important to have a long-term relationship with your doctor, who should be empathetic and caring about your issues.
Other treatment options your doctor may suggest include:

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent somatization disorder. To help reduce your chances of developing somatization disorder:

RESOURCES

American Psychiatric Association http://www.psychiatry.org

American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org

Mental Health Canada http://www.mentalhealthcanada.com

References

LaFrance WC, Jr. Somatoform disorders. Sem Neurol. 2009;29:234-246.

Servan-Schreiber D, Kolb NR, et al. Somatizing patients: Part I. Practical diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(4):1073-1078.

Somatic symptom disorder. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/somatic-symptom-and-related-disorders/somatic-symptom-disorder. Updated February 2012. Accessed July 22, 2013.

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