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Psychosomatic illness Part 2

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

This is a continuation of last weeks article in the Examiner 


Somatoform disorders are the major forms of psychosomatic illness. Physical symptoms of these disorders are real and may appear to be those of medical conditions. However, they are psychological in nature rather than physical. Medical testing and evaluation may sometimes be required to establish that the symptoms are in fact, by elimination, psychosomatic.


Common symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder

Those with body dysmorphic disorder become fixated with physical appearance. The person sees minor flaws as a major issue or indeed, may see flaws where none exist. Common areas of focus include loss of hair; the physical size and shape of body features, such as the facial (eyes, nose, lips etc.); breast size / shape; weight gain; wrinkles.

Associated behaviours may include:

  • Anxiety, fear of what other people “see”.
  • Depression, perhaps related to low self esteem
  • Withdrawal from situations where there are other people, i.e. public, social
  • Mirrors: - either avoiding or the need to constantly check appearance
  • Seeking reassurance /validation from others about their appearance


Common symptoms of conversion disorder

Symptoms of conversion disorder usually look like neurological problems and can include:

  • Vision impairment (Sudden loss of vision, double vision)
  • Swallowing (can lead to tube feeding in severe cases)
  • Impaired balance or coordination, difficulty walking
  • Inability to speak (aphonia)
  • Loss of sensation
  • Paralysis or weakness, in a limb, or entire body
  • Seizures
  • Urinary retention or conversely incontinence


Common symptoms of hypochondriasis

Hypochondriasis is thinking that everyday normal body functions or minor symptoms represent a serious medical condition. In the mind of a sufferer, for example, a common headache may be a brain tumour or muscle soreness in the limbs may be a sign of impending paralysis. Typical behaviours include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Feeling that their GP has made an error in not diagnosing the cause of symptoms, or in some cases, not taking them seriously.
  • Repeated GP visits until (in their mind) a correct diagnosis is made
  • Seeking constant reassurance / validation from friends and family about their symptoms and that they’re “ok”.


Common symptoms of somatisation disorder

Somatisation disorder is characterised by physical symptoms manifesting without an attributable physical cause. May include:

  • Digestive related symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhoea
  • Neurological symptoms, headaches and constant fatigue
  • Pain, anywhere
  • Sexual symptoms, such as pain during intercourse, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and extreme menstrual problems in women


Potential complications of psychosomatic illness?

A person with psychosomatic illness, specifically a somatoform disorder are at increased risk of:

  • Difficulty functioning effectively
  • Physical Disability
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Major depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions (especially prevalent in younger people)


 It can be hard to spot and especially in people we see every day. Indicative symptoms to look for may present as follows, if identified, prompt medical help should be sought


  • Noticeable changes in eating habits. such as overeating, bingeing or conversely, loss of appetite, desire to eat “alone”.
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Recall or memory issues
  • Constant lethargy
  • Feelings of despair, low self-esteem.
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Activities and hobbies once enjoyed no longer interesting or important.
  • Persistent melancholy, desolate feelings
  • Problems sleeping (either too much or too little), the change from normal is key


To be continued….next week


Disclaimer: Please ensure you consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes recommended

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