physical health

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Dr. Katelyn Baker Psy.D.


5 Different Somatoform Disorders & How They Show Up

PUBLISHED Jun 18th, 2021 & UPDATED ON Nov 15th, 2022

When you Google “health anxiety,” you’ll likely get two results: illness anxiety disorders and somatic symptom disorders (also known as somatoform disorders). We’re gonna be tackling that second term today! While illness anxiety often makes you think you have symptoms when you don’t, somatic symptoms are very real and can be quite serious — because you ARE feeling pain, but there’s nothing physically wrong with you! 

It’s defs stressful and overwhelming to experience an invisible disorder (especially without concrete answers from doctors). And it’s not just one disorder, it’s a whoooole group of them! So, we’re gonna dive into what the different types are, how they affect you and what you can do to treat them. 

What Are Somatoform Disorders?

Somatic symptom disorders are any form of thoughts or feelings related to health concerns or physical symptoms, usually lasting for more than 6 months. These emotional states pretty much TURN into physical symptoms, which is called “somatization.” So, in big science-y terms, turning psychosomatic pain into somatic pain! 

It tends to show up in at least one of three ways…

1. Constantly thinking about the severity of your symptoms.

2. Persistently anxious (at suuuper high levels) about health or symptoms.

3. Devoting a lot of time and energy to those symptoms or health concerns.  

These aren’t things that show up in a routine blood test, and a doctor isn’t gonna be able to just sense what’s going on beneath the surface. Basically, YOU genuinely believe something is wrong with your body while medical professionals say “it’s all in your head” (and it kinda is, but your pain is still completely valid).     

5 Types Of Somatoform Disorders 

Like we mentioned above, somatic symptom disorders aren’t just ONE thing — they’re a whole bundle of uncomfy disorders. Here are the 5 ways they can manifest.

1. Somatization Disorder: thinking worst-case scenario about minor symptoms that pop up.

2. Illness Anxiety Disorder: imagining you have symptoms of a very serious disease, like cancer. 

3. Conversion Disorder: having symptoms that suggest a serious disease of the brain or nerves.

4. Body Dysmorphic Disorder: spending a lot of time being concerned about your appearance.

5. Pain Disorder: having persistent pain that can’t be linked to a physical disorder.

And these still don’t take into account the other forms of prolonged pain that don’t quite meet the criteria of a somatoform disorder! 

Somatoform Disorders Symptoms 

Despite falling under the same umbrella term, these 5 disorders are very unique and also have different symptoms associated with them! Let’s take a look at how each one affects your body and mind. 

Somatization Disorder

You may experience a combination of headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, bowel problems, fatigue, joint pain, random aches and pains, or loss of libido. All of these symptoms are scary to you and you assume they’re harmful!   

Illness Anxiety Disorder

Also known as “hypochondriasis.” You’re hyperfocused on developing a certain disease, so you stay away from high-risk places (like hospitals) and always look up illnesses online! 

Conversion Disorder

You suddenly lose your vision or hearing, become paralyzed, or experience numbness or weakness in your arms or legs. This is likely brought on by a stressful situation that turns physical very quickly. 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

This one causes you to excessively focus on what you believe to be a defect with a part of your body. You also spend a lot of time worrying about your physical appearance.

Pain Disorder

Experiencing overall pain that causes you a lot of discomfort and stress. It’s caused by psychological factors. And the severity and duration of those psychological factors will affect the severity and duration of your pain.

What Causes Somatoform Disorders?

Unfortunately, researchers still don’t really know what causes somatoform disorders. Inconvenient, right?! If you have any of these somatoform disorders, you likely seek medical attention over mental. And, doctors often have a hard time seeing past the lack of illnesses behind your physical symptoms (which is ironically the root of this problem). But here are a few risk factors that researchers believe do contribute to it.

  • Having anxiety or depression
  • Being diagnosed with a medical condition or having recovered from one
  • Traumatic experiences that have happened in your life
  • Being at-risk for conditions because of family medical history 

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

Once you step away from the medical world and go to a mental health professional, they will likely ask you about your family history and any sources of stress you face. From there, they may look for the following things to formally diagnose you if:

  • One or more physical symptoms interfere with your day-to-day life.
  • You spend too much time and energy worrying about your symptoms and health.
  • You’ve experienced symptoms for 6 months or more, even if they’ve changed a bit.

From there, they will probably set you on a therapy plan or see if medication is the right route for you! Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, helps break the negative thought patterns and find new ways to manage health anxiety. 

We hope this information has been helpful if you, or a loved one, are dealing with a somatoform disorder. As always, we recommend that you seek professional, medical assistance for a formal diagnosis and treatment options. Take care of yourself! We love you!


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