The WHO defines health
as - 'a state of complete physical, mental and
social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. Stress leads to a poor state of mental and social
well-being and is an important element that is apparently responsible for an estimated 75% of all illnesses.
can be of different forms - emotional, physical or mental
. Researchers have associated stress to have an
adverse effect on the body's immune system. Stress has been known to trigger a variety of illnesses such as constipation,
headaches, frequent colds, skin diseases such as psoriasis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Some psychologists in India
are of the opinion that about 70-90%
of the patients seek primary health care for stress-related illnesses.
'Psychosomatic illnesses' are physical illnesses that are aggravated by psychological factors. It is more common than
what is anticipated or realized. It is common knowledge that there is a direct correlation between the functions of our
body and our mind
. Psychological factors may cause a medical condition or may stop a medical treatment from being
effective, thereby increasing the health risk of the individual. The pain or symptoms caused is real, although doctors may be
unable to find any physical evidence to support it e.g., organic dysfunction.
Psychosomatic illnesses usually stem
from a very negative belief that is deep rooted in an individual and from the emotional aura that is generated in response to
this belief. Therefore to address these illnesses, it is imperative to tackle the underlying causes that are buried in the
subconscious mind. When managed effectively the disease regresses and enters a quiescent period and the patient experiences
immense relief. Understanding the condition
of psychosomatic illnesses
considered a mystery
. Psychosomatic illnesses can be triggered by social, genetic, hereditary or even
environmental factors or a combination of it all. Some children learn to hide feelings or emotions from their family members
and carry it to their adult life as well. Bereavement, change of place and stress from job or home are examples for triggers.
Organs that function involuntarily are sensitive to a person's emotional state. For example heart rate increases with
anxiety. Blushing, sweating and pupil constriction are also involuntary responses to emotions. The autonomic nervous
, responsible for these involuntary responses, is controlled by the hypothalamus
of the brain; a region of
the brain that is highly sensitive
to emotional changes. The nerves at this level may respond to severe and constant
stress by causing a pathological reaction.
The autonomic nervous system supplies the endocrine glands that produce
insulin, cortisone, insulin, adrenaline and thyroxin hormones. Since these glands are also controlled by the hypothalamus,
emotional changes indirectly influence and affect the hormones.
Since there is a close connection between the mind
and the body, people often react physically to an emotionally stressful event. Anxiety has been known to worsen irritable
bowel syndrome, cause overactive bladder and mimic heart attack like symptoms. Every physical ailment has a
In psychosomatic disorder, the psychological component becomes evidently prominent.
Symptoms and Signs
People with psychosomatic illness can have varied symptoms occurring in any
part of the body. Some of these include -
Itching of the scalp and face.
Back Pain especially low back
pain. Leg muscle weakness and numbness may also be present.
Gastrointestinal disorders such as belching, constipation, abdominal pain or nausea
Some of the
signs that can help the physician decide on the diagnosis of Psychosomatic Disorder are listed below.
symptoms usually start before the age of 30.
It affects more females than males.
Patient has symptoms in
relation to their reproductive system, like sexual indifference, irregular periods, pain during periods or sexual
intercourse, and erectile dysfunction in men.
They have at least one symptom suggesting a neurological problem like
seizures, imbalance, paralysis, blindness, double vision, deafness or fainting.
Patients usually are not faking
these symptoms, unlike in factitious disorder.
These symptoms are not produced intentionally.
physician's investigation cannot point to a known medical condition. Management
illnesses in the last couple of decades has become established and now recognized as a separate disorder in the field of
medicine. Previously these less understood disorders were categorized as 'functional disorders'. In 1967 Holmes-Rahe formed a
Life Stress Inventory and in his inventory the top ten most stressful life events were included.
|Top Ten Stressful Life Events
- Spouse's death
- Marriage separation
- Jail term
- Death of a close relative
- Injury or illness
- Fired from job
- Marriage reconciliation
People with psychosomatic illness may deny their need for treatment or refuse changing their lifestyle.
is highly valuable for these patients. It allows them to talk about their feelings and emotions. This
gives an insight of their illness and helps them give a positive direction
to approach therapy. Support
from family members and friends, is crucial
Various stressors in life compel the body and mind to be in a
constant state of alarm. These increase the risk of acute and chronic psychosomatic illnesses. Relieving and treating the
underling stress can help heal the physical illness
continues to be the best way to relieve
people of their stress. Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and massages have been proven to alleviate stress.
Anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications
can be used in conjunction with psychiatric therapy for physical
Let us believe in the old proverb 'Sound mind, Sound Body'. 'You never know with psychosomatic
injuries you have to take your time with them.' Jim Palmer.