Psychosomatic disorders: causes, symptoms and treatment
You’ve probably heard of a person’s blood pressure rising or hair falling out due to anxiety. In these cases it is considered that a mental phenomenon is the cause of a real physiological phenomenon .
These examples do not seem very important at the level of health, but in other cases more severe diseases can be found, causing pain or discomfort or even disabling in some vital domain for the subject. Here we would be talking about a psychosomatic disorder .
When the disease is caused by the mind
A psychosomatic disorder is any disorder with a visible and medically verifiable correlation in the organism that is caused and/or enhanced by psychic or mental elements. In other words, a psychosomatic disorder is a situation in which mental processes have a direct, concrete and easily identifiable effect on one or more areas of the body.
This means that there is not just one psychosomatic disorder, but a wide variety of them depending on the type of physical symptoms and the system of the organism that is damaged.
The causes of this type of disorder are, as we have said, mental, but there is no single process by which they are formed. In general they involve the existence of persistent stress, anxiety, frustration or mood disorders over time, which cause suffering on a continuous basis, with the organism responding physically and causing real damage to itself. The damage is usually caused by the continued release of adrenaline and cortisol or the presence of deficits or excesses in the usual release of neurotransmitters and hormones.
Disorders generated or accentuated by the psyche
Psychosomatic disorders are many and varied, and can affect different systems such as the endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive or immune systems.
Some of the main disorders that can occur or be greatly aggravated by psychic causes are the following.
- Cardiopathies: angina pectoris, myocardial infarction.
- Vascular disorders : high blood pressure.
- Pneumopathies: asthma.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis
- Metabolic disorders: diabetes mellitus
- Genitourinaries: dysmenorrhea, polyuria.
- Dermopathies : acne, eczema.
- Immunopathies: cancer, infectious diseases
Differences between somatomorphic and psychosomatic disorders
Psychosomatic and somatomorphic disorders are often confused . However, we are dealing with different types of disorder, because despite agreeing on different fundamental and defining aspects, there is one main difference.
This difference is that while in somatoform disorders the patient suffers a series of symptoms of a physical or physiological type but which nevertheless do not have a physiological correlation in the form of tissue damage, in psychosomatic disorders there is visible and detectable damage to the body.
Thus, the main difference is that in psychosomatic disorders there is an organic damage or real physical illness while in somatomorphs these are not visible , despite the fact that in both cases there are symptoms of them and that also in both cases the problem is caused or enhanced by a psychic phenomenon.
Treatment of psychosomatic disorder
The treatment of psychosomatic disorders can be complex and requires the participation of a multidisciplinary team, with the participation of specialists in medicine and psychology being especially necessary .
In general, the type of treatment will vary greatly depending on the type of pathology that is generated or enhanced. For example, an ulcer will have a different treatment than dysmenorrhea or angina pectoris or an arrhythmia.
Pharmacological and medical intervention
At the pharmacological and medical level, treatment will focus first on treating the symptoms presented and the tissue damage from which they derive. Given that anxiety and mood are linked to this type of disorder, the treatment of these aspects at a pharmacological level can also be very useful, although in this aspect the drugs usually have only a temporary effect and the symptoms may reappear .
On a psychological level, it is essential that the patient be able to express the psychological reason for the symptoms, so it will be necessary to use techniques dedicated to this purpose. The use of those techniques used in the treatment of anxiety, stress and depression is recommended. In addition, the type of condition generated and the effects that its existence may have at the psychological level on the patient must be taken into account.
Performing different relaxation techniques, problem solving techniques, learning different methods to tolerate and manage stress and anxiety, and even training in social skills (in cases where anxiety is exacerbated by a deficit in these types of skills), cognitive restructuring in order to modify dysfunctional beliefs , systematic desensitization or psychodrama can be very helpful in improving the symptoms.
The use of dramatization in the form of role-playing, modeling or psychodrama is an element to be taken into account and that can contribute greatly to the improvement of symptoms by allowing the subject to express or even become aware of the origin of their illness or the reason why it has been enhanced.
Likewise, moderate physical exercise (depending on the case, since if there is a coronary pathology, extreme caution must be taken in this aspect), the expression of conflicts or even elements such as aromatherapy can also be useful for this type of patient.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
- Bruceta, J.M.; Well, A.M.; More, B. (2000). Psychological intervention in health disorders. Dykinson.
- Sandín, B. (1993). Stress and Health: Factors involved in the relationship between stress and physical illness. Madrid: Pirámide.