According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) a somatoform disorder means that your pain symptoms are physical but don’t have any connection to a general medical condition.
So, is the pain real? The answer is yes and no. When there is no medical reason found to cause the pain, then pain disorder or somatoform disorder is considered to be emotionally triggered – and yes, psychological pain hurts plenty.
Some of the symptoms of pain disorder are:
- Increased pain with no physical cause found
- Extreme fatigue
- Depression or anxiety
- Reduced activity or work
- Feeling helpless to control the pain
- Disruption of work, school, social relationships
Where do you go for help? Your physician will likely recommend a psychological consultation. But no one is saying that you’re crazy. If there’s an emotional connection to the pain, it needs to be addressed.
Treatment will probably start with psychotherapy to help you probe the causes of your pain and what you can do to manage it. Your therapy may be individual or group therapy and at some point your immediate family may be asked to join a session.
If the psychologist discovers that you’re severely depressed or anxious, you may receive a prescription for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. These medications can be necessary to facilitate therapy. Relieving the depression or anxious mood can make a major improvement in the pain problem.
In the meantime with physician approval, you may use acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to take the edge off your pain sensations. Be careful not to self medicate with alcohol or any other over the counter drugs. Never take pain pills from someone else.
Chronic pain, regardless of the cause, can make you feel down on yourself. In psychotherapy, you will build up your self-esteem and learn ways to deal with pain that are safe, effective and non-drug related. You may not be able to cure the pain – but you can find better ways to live fully in spite of the pain disorder.