DR. NEAL HOUSTON

Adult Integrative/Behavioral Health Specialist

The Life Therapy Group®™ Mental Health & Life Wellness Site

MJA Healthcare Network

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

WHAT IS PSYCHO-SOMATIC ILLNESS?




Psychosomatic illness originates with emotional stress or damaging thought patterns, but has physical symptoms that are real and can harm you as much as symptoms that originate from other means.





Almost every physical disorder has some connection with emotional factors. Even accidental injuries such as broken bones seem to happen more often to children from unhappy families than do others. A psychosomatic disease, sometimes called a psychogenic disease, is one in which emotional factors are not merely involved, but our dominant. This appears to be the case for example, in many skin disorders, migraine, some types of asthma, and some gastrointestinal disorders.

The term "psychosomatic" should not be used to suggest that these illnesses are imaginary. The symptoms are actually being experienced by the person. They are real. Disorders with symptoms that are caused entirely by a mental disorder are called Hysteria.

You know from experience that your state of mind affects your body. For instance, your heart beats faster when you are excited or frightened, a stomach ache often follows an emotional scene, and fear can make you sweat. These are just a few simple examples of the interaction of the body with the mind under conditions of stress. There are far more complex links known, such as the one between chronic anxiety and some disorders of the skin, though the mechanism of the linkage is not clearly understood.

There is much to be learned about the ways in which our emotions cause physical illness. It may be that emotional stress is a final factor or "last straw" in precipitating health problems in people who may already have some genetic susceptibility to a certain disease. Significantly, a tendency to develop disorders such as asthma, dermatitis, irritable colon, or migraine under stress seems to run in families.

What is the treatment?

  • If you develop an illness that is known to be associated with or aggravated by stress and emotional problems, your physician or mental health specialist will ask many questions regarding your personal life. Straightforward medical evaluation and reassurance that do not have a serious disease may relieve your symptoms. If it does not, your physician may begin to concentrate on helping you handle the stresses of your day to day life. The knowledge that you can probably avoid or lessen certain symptoms by avoiding certain emotional strains may be helpful. For example, relaxation exercises, together with a change in your daily routine, can be particularly helpful in treating circulatory disorders such as some types of high blood pressure. If the problem persists you may want to seek an assessment by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

Before these conditions can be properly diagnosed, tests must be administered to rule out possible physical reasons for the illness. This step is often frustrating for patient and doctor alike, as test after test comes back negative. This has led some physicians to tell their patients that psychosomatic illnesses are “all in their head.” Today, most doctors know better. Though the root may be mental or emotional, the disease and symptoms are very real.

Psychosomatic illnesses are not faked illnesses, but patients often require treatment for the underlying psychological root. Unfortunately, many people with these illnesses resist psychological counseling as a form of treatment, believing this discounts the disease. Though these illnesses respond to drugs, painkillers and other medical help, symptoms are likely to return unless the underlying cause is addressed.

Bodily ailment or symptom, caused by mental or emotional disturbance, in which psychological stresses adversely affect physiological (somatic) functioning to the point of distress. Psychosomatic disorders may include hypertension, respiratory ailments, gastrointestinal disturbances, migraine and tension headaches, sexual dysfunctions, and dermatitis. Many patients with psychosomatic conditions respond to a combination of drug therapy and psychotherapy.



Stress-related illness is very common, as is the misconception that physical symptoms that occur due to stress are not serious or not 'real' problems. 



Fact:  It's been estimated that over 90% of doctors’ visits are due to health problems influenced at least in part by stress, so psychosomatic illness is more common than people realize!