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Dis Mon. 1990 Oct;36(10):537-91.

Managing somatization disorder.

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  • University of California, Davis.


Somatization disorder (SD), a chronic psychiatric illness that affects about 1% of adult women, is characterized by multiple somatic complaints. It should be suspected in any woman who presents with a vague or complicated history; unaccountable non-responsiveness to therapy; dramatic, seductive or demanding personality style; family history of personality disorder; sexual abuse as a child; substance abuse; or depression with atypical features. Its cause is unknown, although both genetic and environmental factors have been implicated. At follow-up, patients with SD continue to have somatic symptoms, but many improve with therapy. Nearly two thirds of patients with SD attempt suicide, but few complete it; however, completions may be more common than formerly realized. There is no specific treatment for SD, but management can be organized around the following ABCs: Accommodate initially to forge rapport; Behavior modification (ignore symptoms, praise for improved behavior); Confrontation later about effects of behavior style; Decrease drugs gradually, with praise for reduction; Educate about course and meaning of illness; Family involvement to give information and help with treatment; Guilt should be assuaged in physicians, who may blame themselves when patients do not improve; Hospitalize (closed psychiatric unit) only for serious suicide risk, substance abuse, or other extreme behavior; and Intercurrent depression should be treated conservatively.

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