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Somatic Symptom Disorder

Individuals with somatic (affecting the body) symptom disorder feel excessively distressed about their health and have abnormal thoughts, feelings and behaviors in response to their symptoms—enough to disrupt their normal functioning and quality of life. It occurs in:

    • About 5-7% of the adult population 
    • Any age group, but usually beginning by age 30
    • Women, 10 times more than in men 

A disproportionate focus on physical symptoms may or may not be associated with a diagnosed medical condition. Individuals with the disorder experience symptoms and believe they are sick (not faking). Some have only pain as the dominant symptom. They tend to visit multiple healthcare providers—often resulting in unnecessary medical tests and procedures—and experience difficulty accepting their concerns are excessive. 

Researchers believe the main factors contributing to the disorder are:

Biological susceptibilityMore common in women, most likely due to the prevalence of girls being more exposed than boys to childhood abuse and trauma

Childhood exposure – to emotional stress or poor emotional development, resulting from physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect or lack of emotional closeness

Psychological factorssuch as learned responses to a chaotic lifestyle or trauma or a high level of anxiety or depression

Heightened attention –  to bodily sensations or processes, chronic illness during childhood or a low pain threshold


One or more physical symptoms that cause distress or disruption in daily life. Ranging from mild to severe, symptoms must be persistent (typically present for more than 6 months), including: 

    • Physical pain, the most commonly reported symptom
    • Neurological symptoms (headaches, movement disorders, weakness, dizziness, fainting)
    • Digestive problems
    • Pain during sexual activity or painful periods 

Excessive thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to physical symptoms or health concerns: 

    • Ongoing, disproportionate focus on the seriousness of symptoms
    • Approximately 30-60% of those with the disorder also have anxiety and/or depression
    • Excessive time and energy spent on symptoms or health concerns
    • At least one symptom is constantly present, though different symptoms may come and go

Read more about related concerns and disorders…


Read more about CFI’s specialized treatments for PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder, and related concerns.



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