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What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?

Somatic symptom disorder, also known as hypochondriasis, is a condition in which individuals feel extremely distressed about their health and have excessive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors relating to their physical symptoms. 

A diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder requires at least one of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme and persistent thoughts about the seriousness of one’s symptoms.
  • Persistently high level of anxiety about one’s health or symptoms.
  • Excessive time and energy devoted to the symptoms or health concerns.

To be classified as a disorder, the symptoms typically persist for more than 6 months, although anyone somatic symptom may not be continuously present. Different degrees of somatic symptom disorders may be diagnosed. These include:

  • Mild, if only one of the three main symptoms is present
  • Moderate, if two or more of the symptoms are present
  • With predominant pain, if the somatic symptoms mostly involve pain
  • Persistent, if there are severe symptoms, marked impaired, and long duration (more than 6 months)
  • Severe, if two or more main symptoms are present with multiple somatic complaints

Somatic symptom disorder must be differentiated from nonpsychiatric medical conditions, especially disorders that show symptoms that are not easily diagnosed. These include AIDS, endocrinopathies, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, degenerative diseases of the nervous system, and lupus.

What are the treatments for Somatic Symptom Disorder?

Patients with somatic symptom disorder often resist psychiatric treatment. However, they may accept therapy that focuses on stress reduction and education in coping with chronic illness. Group psychotherapy is often beneficial, in part because of the social support it provides. Other types of therapy that may be helpful include insight-oriented psychotherapy, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and hypnosis.

Pharmacotherapy may help treat a person with somatic symptom disorder only when the patient has an underlying drug-responsive condition, such as an anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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