What are somatic symptom and related disorder?

Also known as: somatization disorder, SSD’s, conversion disorders, psychosomatic disorders, functional disorders, psychological factors affecting medical conditions and others.

SSD is a group of common conditions, occurring in all cultures, where children/adolescents have physical symptoms worse than those usually associated with any existing medical condition or where no clear medical problem exists. Symptoms, and the thoughts and behaviors associated with them are sufficiently severe and distressing to interfere with a child’s/adolescents’ ability to have a normal life. Many children suffer from chronic anxiety about having a serious illness based on their physical symptoms.

Several conditions are related to SSD’s by having physical symptoms as a significant part of their clinical picture. They include: illness anxiety disorder (previously called hypochondriasis), conversion disorder (also called functional neurological symptom disorder), other specific somatic symptom and related disorders (these may have a specific diagnosis like pseudocyesis where a woman has all the signs of pregnancy but is not pregnant).

What causes somatic symptom and related disorder? 

The exact cause of somatic symptom and related disorder isn’t clear but genetic, family influences, personality trait, problems with processing emotions or a learned behavior, may singly or together, play a role. Risk factors include stressful life events, adversity, some disorders like depression or severe anxiety, or having had past emotional/sexual trauma in childhood.

What are the symptoms of somatic symptom and related disorder?

Children/adolescents feel normal physical reactions (like a headache) or exaggerate a mild disease symptom and feel that they are part of a severe life threatening illness. Symptoms vary based on what part of the body is focused upon. Symptoms can include pain (most common), headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, reduced sexual desire and a wide variety of other symptoms.  

What are somatic symptom and related disorder care options? 

Somatic symptom and related disorder can often be difficult to treat unless clearly identified. Usual treatments may include psychotherapy with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, family therapy and in some cases medications.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 1/29/2019 3:21:13 PM

© 2020 Nicklaus Children's Hospital. All Rights Reserved.