Psychosomatic Disorders

Psychosomatic disorder is an illness that connects the mind and body. This occurs in such a way that the physiological functioning of the body is affected by the  psychological tensions that either cause a disease or worsen the pre-existing disease in a person.

It is also known as Psycho-physiologic disorder. An improper stimulation of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the functions of the internal organs, is responsible for the evolution of this disorder and leads to impairment of the functional organs.

Image Credit: Sohel Parvez Haque / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Sohel Parvez Haque / Shutterstock

Etiology

The exact cause for the evolution of psychosomatic disorder is unknown. Studies reveal that the physical disorders associated with mental stress are due to the hyperactivity of the nerve impulses sent from the brain to the other parts of the body, which can cause the secretion of adrenaline into the blood, leading to a state of anxiousness. This condition can be triggered by various life factors as follows:

  • Genetics: A few studies state that the peculiar genetic aberrations in an individual may turn into a direct cause for this condition.
  • Irregular biological conditions: Alteration in glucose metabolism, amino acid levels in serum, etc., can cause psychosomatic disorder.
  • Stress influence: Persons who experience stressful events like trauma, abuse, frequent illness, fear, depression, anger, guilt, insecurity, and other difficult situations are also susceptible to this disorder.
  • Family circumstances: Parental absence, behavior of parents toward the child, and relationship difficulties are also a major origin of psychosomatic disorders.

Influence of psychological factors

If a person has a common medical condition like essential hypertension, then psychological factors like anxiety and stress will influence that condition in one of the following ways:

  • Stress altering time: Stress will alter the time period that is utilized for the development, worsening, or recovery from the general medical condition. For example, when a person is angry, it prolongs the duration of high blood pressure.
  • Intrusion of stress: The psychological factors might intrude into the treatment provided for the general medical condition and create problems.
  • Exacerbation: Anxiety factors make the symptoms of the medical condition worsen, thereby increasing its severity.
  • Generation of risk factors: The stress component will generate many other risk factors associated with health issues like diabetes, headache, etc.

Modes of Psychosomatic disorder

There are three general categories of psychosomatic illness. In the first one, a person has both mental and physical illness, whose symptoms and management complicate each other. The second category involves a person who experiences mental issues due to the medical condition and its treatment. For example, patients feeling depressed because they have cancer and are taking treatment for it. The third kind is called somatoform disorder. It is a condition in which a person with mental illness experiences one or more physical symptoms, even if he does not have any associated medical condition. Somatoform illness is further classified as follows:

  • Hypochondriasis: This is a condition in which the person believes a minor physical symptom to be a grave disease. For example, concluding the temporary flatulence problem into colon cancer.
  • Conversion disorder: When a person who does not have any medical illness experiences neurological symptoms such as seizures, which have an effect on movement and senses, it is conversion disorder.
  • Somatization disorder: Here, an individual feels frequent headaches and has diarrhea, which does not have any relation to a serious medical condition.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder: A person gets stressed about the appearance of their body such as wrinkles and obesity. Here the person severely gets affected by anorexia.
  • Pain disorder: Here, a person senses severe pain over any part of the body, which might last for six months to one year, without any physical cause. For example, migraines, tension headaches, back pain, etc.

Risk factors of psychosomatic disorder

Psychological factors can alter a medical condition to a certain extent.

For example:

  • Diabetes: Type-2 diabetic patients are more susceptible to stress-related hypertension. The same stress factors of hypertension exacerbate the diabetic condition.
  • Cancer: Many causative factors are responsible for the development of cancer in people. Studies have suggested that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread, thereby worsening the state of cancer.

Some medical conditions arise due to mental tension, such as:

  • Hypertension: Some psychology triggering factors like negative emotional state, frequent adverse stress, and social factors such as economic status and life events have an indirect relation with the levels of blood pressure.
  • Heart disease-associated arteriosclerosis: Studies have concluded that the development of coronary heart disease is correlated with several risk factors in which depression, anxiety, and stress are also a major cause.
  • Respiratory problems: Apart from various etiological influences, emotional stress is a major triggering factor associated with the induction of bronchial asthma.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Peptic ulcer formation is related to stressful life events of an individual

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Written by

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Afsaneh graduated from Warwick University with a First class honours degree in Biomedical science. During her time here her love for neuroscience and scientific journalism only grew and have now steered her into a career with the journal, Scientific Reports under Springer Nature. Of course, she isn’t always immersed in all things science and literary; her free time involves a lot of oil painting and beach-side walks too.

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