Some people have excessive and unrealistic worries about their health. They are very worried about getting a disease or are certain they have a disease, even after medical tests show they do not. And these people often misinterpret minor health problems or normal body functions as symptoms of a serious disease. An example is a person who is sure that her headaches are caused by a brain tumor. This condition used to be called hypochondria. Now it is called somatic symptom disorder. The symptoms associated with somatic symptom disorder are not under the person's voluntary control, and they can cause great distress and can interfere with a person's life.
Somatic symptom disorder can happen at any time of life, but most often begins in early adulthood. It affects men and women equally.
Alison Zollars Arthur knows better. As the owner of a skin and body wellness center, the 44-year-old Houston resident regularly counsels her clients about the importance of a healthy diet. But too often, she pigs out on fast food, salty snacks, and wine.
"If I have one glass of wine, I will have more," she says. "The voice saying, 'You really shouldn't,' shuts down, and I can do anything I want to."
That "voice" is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that handles planning,...
What Are the Features of Somatic Symptom Disorder?
People with somatic symptom disorder -- commonly called hypochondriacs -- are worried about having a physical illness. The symptoms they describe can range from general complaints, such as pain or tiredness, to concerns about normal body functions, such as breathing or stomach noises. People with somatic symptom disorder are not faking or lying about their symptoms; they truly believe they are sick.
Warning signs that a person might have somatic symptom disorder include:
The person has a history of going to many doctors. He or she may even "shop around" for a doctor who will agree that he or she has a serious illness.
The person recently experienced a loss or stressful event.
The person is overly concerned about a specific organ or body system, such as the heart or the digestive system.
The person's symptoms or area of concern might shift or change.
A doctor's reassurance does not calm the person's fears; he or she believes the doctor is wrong or made a mistake.
The person's concern about illness interferes with his or her work, family, and social life.