Mental Health

Somatoform Disorders

What is somatoform disorder? Somatoform Disorder: What It Is and How to Cope
What is somatoform disorder?

People with somatoform disorder have a number of different symptoms that typically last for several years. Their symptoms can’t be traced to a specific physical cause. In people with somatoform disorder, medical test results are either normal or don’t explain the person’s symptoms. People who have somatoform disorder often become very worried about their health because they don’t know what is causing their health problems. The symptoms of somatoform disorder are similar to the symptoms of other illnesses. People with this disorder may have several medical evaluations and tests to be sure that they don’t have another illness.
What are the symptoms of somatoform disorder?

Symptoms of somatoform disorder may include frequent headaches, back pain, abdominal cramping and pelvic pain. Other symptoms include pain in the joints, legs and arms, and chest or abdominal pain. Somatoform disorder may also cause gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea and food intolerance. Sometimes somatoform disorder makes it painful for a person to urinate, even if he or she doesn’t have an infection. It can also cause problems with sexual function for both men and women.
What is the cause of somatoform disorder?

No one knows exactly why symptoms of somatoform disorder start. In some cases, there may be a problem with the nerve impulses that send signals of pain, pressure and other unpleasant sensations to the brain. We do know that the pain and problems caused by somatoform disorder are real.

Like many medical problems, somatoform disorder often runs in families. It tends to come and go over time.
How is somatoform disorder treated?

The goal in treating somatoform disorder is for a person to be able to live a normal life as much as possible, even though he or she may still have some pain or other symptoms. Fortunately, somatoform disorder will not shorten a person’s life. Although there is no known cure, it can be managed.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe medicine for some of your symptoms, but in many cases you will not need medicine.

The most important part of your treatment is for you to see your doctor for regular checkups. Your doctor will tell you how often he or she needs to see you. You may feel frustrated if your symptoms continue, but remember that somatoform disorder can be very difficult to treat. Your doctor will do his or her best to help you maintain your health.

Reviewed/Updated: 07/05
Created: 7/95

This handout provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this handout applies to you and to get more information on this subject, talk to your family doctor.

Copyright © 1995-2005 American Academy of Family Physicians

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