Is it All in Your Head?


Looking up from tightening the straps of his ankle boot, Shea says to her husband, “Oh, Micheal. I don’t know why the doctor can’t figure out what’s wrong?! I hope this second opinion he’s requesting is helpful.” Leaning on his crutches, Micheal stands with a grimace and gives her a shrug. “I don’t know Shea, all I can tell you is that the pain just seems to be getting worse and worse,” as she helps him out the office doors and into the car. Shea wonders how soon they’ll be back. This is their third time going to the doctor since Micheal’s ankle was injured. But it did not make sense! Her husband had healed from a bad sprain almost three months ago and at first appeared to be recovering when everything escalated. Shea woke up one night to her husband sitting up in bed clutching his ankle saying something was wrong and the pain was much worse. Even after pain medication and rest, he was not able to go to work for the remainder of the week and the week after, saying there was no way he could walk around the construction site all day in this condition. Glancing over to the passenger side of the car, she sighed in confusion, hoping this would all be resolved soon, for Micheal’s sake.

Micheal is experiencing what is called somatic symptom(s) disorder. This disorder usually involves having a significant focus on physical symptoms, such as pain, weakness, or shortness of breath. The person experiences excessive feeling (such as extreme pain), and exhibits behavior related to the physical symptom(s), which prevents them from functioning normally. That being said, this diagnosis is not made solely because a physician cannot find a medical cause for these physical symptoms. Excessive thoughts, feelings, and behavior must also coincide with the illness. It is important to recognize that the individual believes they are feeling real pain and experiencing these symptoms. Thankfully, there are treatment options for individuals with this disorder. Treatment is designed to help with symptoms and control the pain. The goal is to get the affected individual back to their normal lifestyle as soon as possible, by providing reassurance and support, while monitoring symptoms, and eliminating unnecessary testing. In addition, psychotherapy is recommended. This way the individual can learn ways to cope with their pain or other symptoms, deal with stress, and improve functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2018). 

The American Psychiatric Association tells the story of a man named Martin, who is 31 years old. Similar to Micheal, Martin began seeing his primary care doctor when he started experiencing pain. This pain became increasingly unbearable, which led Martin to reconsider his diet, thinking that might be the cause of his problem. Changing his diet did not resolve the pain, and as the pain progressed, Martin had to cancel pre-existing plans. He went back to his primary care doctor, who thoroughly examined him and ran a battery of tests, but they all came back normal. “As a result of these symptoms, Martin had lost the ability to find happiness and began to suffer from severe depression.” Trying to find a solution, Martin and his doctor decided to schedule frequent check-ups, as well as talks with a therapist to try and get Martin back to his norm. After three months of making these adjustments, Martin’s mood had improved. “After several sessions of counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy specifically related to his pain Martin noticed that his pain was much less and more manageable” (American Psychiatric Association, 2018).

With this treatment, Martin was gradually able to find relief, as a professional validated the feeling(s) of pain he experienced. All in all, Martin sought out and received treatment, therefore improving his quality of life. Fortunately, individuals suffering from somatic symptom(s) disorder don’t have to live in pain; they can speak to their healthcare providers and find help. 

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. Somatic Symptoms Disorder. Retrieved September 20, 2019, from, https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/somatic-symptom-disorder/what-is-somatic-symptom-disorder 

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