Children with somatic symptom disorder worry excessively about physical symptoms that are fairly routine — headaches, stomachaches, nausea or fatigue-which they interpret as signs of serious illness. While the concerning symptoms are not made-up, they are more often than not normal bodily sensations that nonetheless disrupt their lives significantly because they feel so much anxiety and stress about them.
Children with somatic symptom disorder are more likely than adults to fixate on one particular symptom, and the disorder shows up in girls more often than boys. The disorder is formerly known as hypochondriasis, and while most hypochondriacs are now diagnosed with SSD, a few have Illness Anxiety Disorder, which involves intense anxiety over illness without the symptoms.
- Attributing normal bodily sensations to signs of an illness
- Unreasonable amounts of time spent worrying about a specific pain or a more general symptom such as fatigue
- Recurrent abdominal pain, headache, fatigue, or nausea
- Fear or avoidance of physical activity
- Frequent visits to the doctor’s or nurse’s office, or in some cases, deliberately avoiding the doctor’s office
- Long amounts of time spent researching illnesses
- Acute anxiety
Somatic symptom disorder is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), during which children identify the thoughts that scare them and try to learn that they’re just thoughts, not realistic fears.
Another therapy technique for somatic symptom disorder is exposure and response prevention therapy, which exposes children to what they fear in a therapeutic setting and trains them not to react.
Anti-depressants are sometimes used to address the anxiety that comes with somatic symptom disorder.