Psychosomatic Disorders

Authored by , Reviewed by Dr Colin Tidy | Last edited | Certified by The Information Standard

Psychosomatic means mind (psyche) and body (soma). A psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to being made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. Your mental state can affect how bad a physical disease is at any given time.

To an extent most diseases are psychosomatic - involving both mind and body.

  • There is a mental aspect to every physical disease. How we react to disease and how we cope with disease vary greatly from person to person. For example, the rash of psoriasis may not bother some people very much. However, the rash covering the same parts of the body in someone else may make them feel depressed and more ill.
  • There can be physical effects from mental illness. For example, with some mental illnesses you may not eat, or take care of yourself, very well which can cause physical problems.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines psychosomatic as: of, relating to, involving, or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance.

Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to be made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. For example, these include psoriasis, eczema, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease.

It is thought that the actual physical part of the illness (the extent of a rash, the level of the blood pressure, etc) can be affected by mental factors. This is difficult to prove. However, many people with these and other physical diseases say that their current mental state can affect how bad their physical disease is at any given time.

Some people also use the term psychosomatic disorder when mental factors cause physical symptoms but where there is no physical disease. For example, a chest pain may be caused by stress and no physical disease can be found.

See the separate leaflet called Somatisation and Somatoform Disorders for more details.

It is well known that the mind can cause physical symptoms. For example, when we are afraid or anxious we may develop symptoms of anxiety.

Each disease has its own treatment options. For physical diseases, physical treatments such as medication or operations are usually the most important. However, healthcare workers will usually try to treat a person as a whole and take into account mental and social factors which may be contributing to a disease. Therefore, treatments to ease stress, anxiety, depression, etc, may help if they are thought to be contributing to your physical disease.

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Further reading and references

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