Psychosomatic illnesses are caused by mental and emotional stresses that manifest as physical diseases without biological causes. This includes things like irritable bowel syndrome, upset stomach, muscle aches, tension headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, hyperventilation or panic attacks, colitis and ulcers, and even infertility. The skill with which a person handles stress affects the potential appearance and severity of psychosomatic symptoms.
Before these conditions can be properly diagnosed, tests must be administered to rule out possible physical reasons for the illness. This step is often frustrating for patient and doctor alike, as test after test comes back negative. This has led some physicians to tell their patients that psychosomatic illnesses are “all in their head.” Today, most doctors know better. Though the root may be mental or emotional, the disease and symptoms are very real.
Psychosomatic illnesses are not faked illnesses, but patients often require treatment for the underlying psychological root. Unfortunately, many people with these illnesses resist psychological counseling as a form of treatment, believing this discounts the disease. Though these illnesses respond to drugs, painkillers and other medical help, symptoms are likely to return unless the underlying cause is addressed.
If not chronic, psychosomatic illnesses might only crop up when a person goes through a particularly stressful time. In these cases, symptoms subside on their own when stress levels fall. These conditions might accompany the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or cyclic pressures at work or home. Aside from creating an illness, emotional stress might also make an existing illness worse. Psychological stress can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, lower energy levels, and exacerbate a weakened condition.
While psychosomatic illnesses are real, they can be avoided. Learning to handle stress and replace negative thinking patterns through cognitive behavioral changes can provide relief. People with these types of illnesses do not intentionally make themselves sick, nor are they aware they are causing the illnesses. In the case of chronic patterns, it is likely that therapy will be necessary to replace existing unhealthy patterns with new healthier coping mechanisms.