Neuroscience research sheds light on somatic symptoms in anxiety disorders.
The Body Speaks
Somatic symptoms include stomach pain; back pain; pain in arms, legs or joints; headaches, chest pain, dizziness, fainting; heart pounding or racing; shortness of breath; sexual problems including pain and performance; bowel irregularity; fatigue and low energy; sleep disturbances; menstrual-related, and others.
Somatic symptoms are common in anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar and other psychiatric disorders. Rates of somatic symptoms in clinical samples range from 20 to nearly 50 percent (e.g. Strainge et al, 2019; Edgcomb et al., 2016; Gierk et al., 2017; Gray et al., 2020).
They may be referred to as “medically unexplained symptoms”, also part of normal stress reaction during times of personal crises and disaster. Within psychiatry, somatic symptoms—only when severe and persistent—meet diagnostic criteria, called “Somatoform Disorders.”
Outside of psychiatry, they may be referred to as “functional disorders,” with a specific clinical presentation defying traditional diagnostic categories e.g. Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGD). Psychological issues are more common with functional disorders, for example neuroticism and concealed aggression in FGD. Personality is associated with medically unexplained symptoms e.g in Borderline Personality. Specialists may not recognize or may hesitate to discuss psychological aspects.