You may often think the worst about the symptoms experienced, resulting in your frequently seeking medical attention or care and searching for an explanation even when serious conditions have been excluded. This may lead to major emotional stress, especially when your doctor and everyone around you don’t believe that your symptoms are real. Somatic symptom disorders may be caused by:

  • Genetic traits, like pain sensitivity
  • A personality trait that involves negative emotions and poor self-image
  • Difficulty dealing with stress
  • Learned behaviours like getting attention from having an illness or increasing immobility from pain behaviours
  • Decreased emotional awareness, which may result in you focusing more on the physical issues than emotional ones.

Any of these traits or a combination of them may contribute to the occurrence of somatic symptom disorder.


There are different types of somatic symptom disorders, namely:

Conversion disorder – Also known as functional neurological symptom disorder, is a condition where one has neurological symptoms that can't be traced back to a medical cause, such as weakness, blindness, hearing loss, loss of sensation, abnormal movements and seizures.


Illness anxiety disorder – Formerly known as hypochondriasis, is a condition that results in people being preoccupied with a concern that they have a serious disease. They may believe that minor complaints may be signs of a serious medical condition. These complaints may include headaches being a sign of a brain tumour.

How is somatic symptom disorder treated?

To treat somatic symptom disorder, Dr Matshaya may recommend psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both, in order to help relieve anxiety over physical health and improve quality of life. Psychotherapy involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps identify negative or irrational thoughts and patterns and learn different strategies for managing anxiety about your health, as well as other mental health conditions like depression.


1What are the warning signs of somatic symptom disorders?

Signs of somatic symptom disorder include:

  • Specific sensations such as shortness of breath, pain, fatigue or weakness.
  • A single symptom, multiple symptoms or varying symptoms.
  • Mild, moderate or severe symptoms./li>
  • Symptoms that may be unrelated to any medical cause may be identified or related to a medical condition such as cancer but more significant than what is normally expected.
2How is somatic symptom disorder diagnosed?
A psychiatrist may diagnose somatic symptom disorder by conducting a physical examination and a psychological evaluation, as well as asking about any alcohol, drug or other substance use.
3What are the risk factors of somatic symptom disorder?

Risk factors of somatic symptom disorder may include:

  • Having anxiety or depression
  • Experiencing stressful life events, trauma or violence
  • Having a lower level of education and socio-economic status
  • Having experienced past trauma such as childhood sexual abuse
  • Being at risk of developing a medical condition such as having a strong family history of a disease
  • Having a medical condition or recovering from one

"Do not only go through pain but grow through pain"





A psychiatrist is a qualified doctor that specialises in the medical treatment of mental health conditions, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists can assess both mental and physical aspects of psychological conditions and are able to prescribe appropriate medication.