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Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder

Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • A pattern of one or more somatic symptoms recurring or persisting for >6 months that are distressing or result in significant disruption of daily life
  • Conceptualization and diagnostic criteria for somatic symptom presentations were significantly modified with the advent of DSM-5. Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is similar in many aspects to the former somatization disorder, which required presentation with multiple physical complaints, no longer based on symptoms counts; current diagnosis is based on the way the patient presents and perceives his or her symptoms.
  • SSD now includes most presentations that would formerly be considered hypochondriasis. Hypochondriasis has been replaced by illness anxiety disorders, which is diagnosed when the patient presents with significant preoccupation with having a serious illness in the absence of illness-related somatic complaints.
  • Somatization increases disability independent of comorbidity, and individuals with SSD have health-related functioning that is two standard deviations below the mean.
  • Symptoms may be specific (e.g., localized pain) or relatively nonspecific (e.g., fatigue).
  • Symptoms sometimes may represent normal bodily sensations or discomfort that does not signify serious disease.
  • Suffering is authentic. Symptoms are not intentionally produced or feigned.


  • Usually, first symptoms appear in adolescence.
  • Predominant sex: female > male (10:1)
  • Type and frequency of somatic complaints may differ among cultures, so symptom reviews should be adjusted based on culture; more frequent in cultures without Western/empirical explanatory models

  • Expected 2% among women and <0.2% among men
  • Somatization seen in up to 29% of patients presenting to primary care offices
  • Somatic concerns may increase, but other features of the presentation decrease such that prevalence declines after age 65 years.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

Patients with SSD demonstrate different patterns of heart rate variability. Although this cannot be used to clinically, it does point to the differences in psychophysiology of SSD.

Consanguinity studies and single nucleotide polymorphism genotyping indicate that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of SSD.

Risk Factors

  • Child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, has been shown to be a risk factor for somatization.
  • Symptoms begin or worsen after losses (e.g., job, close relative, or friend).
  • Greater intensity of symptoms often occurs with stress.

Commonly Associated Conditions

Comorbid with other psychiatric conditions is yet to be determined but is likely to be 20–50% with anxiety, depression, or personality disorders.

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/1688015/all/Somatic_Symptom__Somatization__Disorder.
Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/1688015/all/Somatic_Symptom__Somatization__Disorder. Accessed April 26, 2019.
Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/1688015/all/Somatic_Symptom__Somatization__Disorder
Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 26]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/1688015/all/Somatic_Symptom__Somatization__Disorder.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Somatic Symptom (Somatization) Disorder ID - 1688015 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/1688015/all/Somatic_Symptom__Somatization__Disorder PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -