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Updated: Dec 27 2021

Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

  • Snapshot
    • A 27-year-old woman presents to her primary care physician due to headache, chest pain, and food intolerance. These symptoms have been very distressing for her and reports that these symptoms have been present for approximately 8 months. She previously had seen a headache specialist, gastroenterologist, and obtained a number of electrocardiograms in the emergency department. Their respective thorough work-up was negative. On physical exam, the patient appears healthy and is otherwise unremarkable.
  • Somatic Symptom Disorder
    • DSM V criteria
      • ≥ 1 somatic symptom(s) which
        • are distressing to the patient or
        • leads to a significant amount of disruption in the patient's life
      • the patient experiences excessive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in relation to their somatic symptoms or their health concerns
        • these manifest as ≥ 1 of the following
          • thoughts about the seriousness of their symptoms are disproportionate and persistent
          • anxiety levels about their health or symptoms are persistently elevated
          • concerns for their symptoms or health take excessive time and energy
      • the somatic symptom must be persistent for ≥ 6 months although
        • these symptoms don't have to always be present
    • Treatment
      • have a single physician as the designated primary caretaker
        • schedule monthly visits and psychotherapy
        • avoid unecessary diagnostic testing unless indicated
  • Conversion Disorder (Functional Neurologic Symptom Disorder)
    • Snapshot
      • A 23-year-old woman presents to her physician's office with paralysis of the left arm and paresthesias of the left leg. She reports that her left arm does "not feel part of me." On physical examination, the patient's mood is incongruent with the presence of her symptoms. She is unable to raise the left arm; however, she was able to obtain an object from her purse.
    • DSM V criteria
      • ≥ 1 symptom(s) of
        • altered sensory function or
        • altered voluntary motor function
      • clinical findings are not consistent with recognized neurological or medical conditions
      • the patient's symptoms are not better explained by
        • another medical condition or
        • medical disorder
      • the patient's symptoms causes
        • significant distress or
        • impairment in functioning or
        • a need for medical evaluation
    • Differential
      • difficult to distinguish from functional neurologic disorder
        • functional neurologic disorder is not often abruptly preceded by a life stressor
    • Treatment
      • patient education and developing a therapeutic alliance (first-line)
      • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
        • in patients who do not respond to first-line treatment
  • Snapshot
    • A 21-year-old man presents to his physician's office with concerns of having heart disease. He says that he has been concerned about having a heart attack for the past 7 months. He constantly checks his pulse and reads about symptoms associated with heart disease on a daily basis. He reports that his worry is causing him a great deal of stress and concern. Medical history is unremarkable. Family history is significant for a myocardial infarction in his father, who is currently living without significant morbidity. Physical examination is normal.
  • Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondriasis)
    • DSM V criteria 
      • patient's are worried about having or developing a serious illness and
        • this preocuppation is present for at least 6 months and
          • is not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., obsessive-compulsive disorder and somatic symptom disorder)
      • patient's can have an excessive or disproportionate preoccupation of developing a medical condition if
        • another medical condition is present or
        • if they are at high risk (e.g., strong family history of heart disease)
      • somatic symptoms are typically not present
      • an associated high level of anxiety about their health
      • the patient performs excessive health-related behaviors (e.g., checking their body for the presence of an illness) or
        • the patient may develop maladaptive avoidance patterns (e.g., avoiding doctor appointments)
    • Treatment
      • the goal is to improve coping skills while never dismissing their fears
        • caregivers should closely follow their patients and develop a therapeutic alliance
      • CBT
  • Snapshot
    • A 22-year-old woman presents to her primary care physician requesting a referral to see a plastic surgeon. She states that her nose appears that of a witch due to its asymmetry and width. She spends hours looking at the mirror daily and constantly compares her nose to other students on campus. She puts a considerable amount of make-up and wears sunglasses in an attempt to improve her nose's appearance. She has also withdrawn from her social groups at school. Her facial features has caused her to feel depressed and anxious. On physical examination, her nose is symmetric and appears normal.
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
    • DSM V criteria
      • the patient becomes preoccupied with
        • at least one physical nonexistent defect or
        • slight physical defect
      • repetitive behaviors or mental acts at some point during the illness course
        • repetitive behaviors include
          • mirror checking
          • skin picking
          • excessive grooming
        • mental acts include
          • comparing self appearances to others
      • appearance concerns can result in
        • distress or psychosocial impairment
      • preoccupations with appearance is not better explained by an eating disorder
    • Treatment
      • pharmacologic
        • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (first-line)
          • can be used in mild, moderate, and severe cases
            • in severe cases it is typically combined with CBT
      • psychotherapy
        • cognitive behavioral therapy
          • can be used in mild, moderate, and severe cases
            • in severe cases it is typically combined with SSRIs
  • Snapshot
    • A 22-year-old woman is brought to the emergency department after fainting and subsequently having a seizure in the parking lot of the hospital. The patient was identified to be a nursing student and a syringe was found on her person. Point of care testing for glucose shows hypoglycemia. Laboratory testing is obtained and is significant for an insulin to c-peptide ratio that is > 1. (Factitious disorder imposed on self)
  • Factitious Disorder
    • DSM V criteria
      • factitious disorder imposed on self (Munchausen syndrome)
        • the patient falsifies physical or psychological symptoms or induces injury or disease to themselves
          • when in another person (e.g., a child) it is termed factitious disorder imposed on another (Munchausen syndrome by proxy)
          • when seen in parents of a child who has a history of being ill followed by excess concern for minor concerns it is vulnerable child syndrome
        • the patient's deceptive behavior occurs in the absence of external rewards
        • this disorder is not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., delusional disorder)
    • Treatment
      • no specific therapy
      • in factitious disorder imposed on another (e.g., in a child)
        • children must be removed by child protective services
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