Psychosomatic Medicine

Psychosomatic medicine refers to symptoms that may appear to be purely physical, but which have their origin in emotions.  There are many disorders and illnesses that have been identified as being purely psychosomatic or having a psychosomatic component.  These disorders can be directly induced by emotions, such as pain syndromes, and gastrointestinal conditions like heartburn, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and skin disorders.  The psychosomatic process begins in the mind and emotions and can be a potent factor in physical ills.

An example of a psychosomatic process would be Tension Myositis Syndrome(TMS), first introduced by Dr. E. John Sarno.  In this condition, a reduction in blood flow to a specific part of the body causes mild oxygen deprivation, resulting in pain and other symptoms, depending upon which tissues have been oxygen deprived.

A type of psychosomatic disorder occurs when a physical disorder intensifies anxieties and concerns not necessarily related to the condition.  Anxiety can often worsen in response to the stress of chronic pain or the knowledge of the existence of a physical disorder.  Preexisting emotional symptoms often intensify when physical findings develop.

There may be a reduction of physical symptoms relating to an existing physical disorder.  In groups of severely wounded soldiers it was found that despite the severity of their injuries they often required little or no pain treatment.  Their pain was reduced because they were aware they were alive and being cared for.

Hysterical disorders may include a wide range of physical disorders, including muscle weakness or paralysis, numbness, tingling, blindness, etc.  The absence of physical changes in the body indicates that these symptoms are generated by powerful emotions in the brain.  These symptoms can be compared to hallucinations.

An interesting aspect of hysterical and psychosomatic disorders is that they tend to spread throughout populations.  People with an unconscious need for symptoms tend to develop physical symptoms.  This type of disorder can also occur when psychosomatic symptoms are misinterpreted and attributed to structural abnormalities.