May 01, 2019

Excessive health distress

Somatic symptom disorder

You're in pain and you know something is wrong. Tests have come back clear, but you still don't feel well. Even after changing doctors and repeating tests, there still isn't an answer.

A little worry over your health is normal. But for some people, fear and concern over symptoms can get out of control. Some may even become convinced they have a particular illness, even when test results are normal. These are common features of somatic symptom disorder, a mental health concern that's thought to affect roughly 5 percent of the population.

Symptoms under focus

With somatic symptom disorder, you develop excessive preoccupation with physical symptoms, including pain or fatigue, that results in significant emotional distress or disrupted daily life. Other common symptoms include dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain or shortness of breath. These symptoms may or may not be attributed to a diagnosed medical condition.

The thoughts, feelings and behaviors of somatic symptom disorder may manifest in a number of ways, including:

  • Constant worrying about illness
  • Interpreting normal sensations as potentially threatening or harmful
  • Fearing that symptoms are serious or life-threatening, despite exams or testing that suggest otherwise
  • Feeling that medical evaluation and treatment haven't been adequate
  • Repeatedly checking the body for abnormalities
  • Frequent health care visits or testing that doesn't relieve concerns or makes them worse

Women are more likely to show signs of somatic symptom disorder, as are...