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Somatic Symptom Disorder

A somatic symptom disorder (formerly known as “somatoform disorder”) is a mental illness characterized by the manifestation of physical symptoms such as pain, weakness, pseudoseizures, sensory abnormalities, or gastrointestinal issues. These physical symptoms are neither feigned nor intentionally produced and cannot be fully explained by another medical condition, mental disorder, or drug effect. They may or may not be associated with another medical impairment, but the body’s reaction to such distress is extreme and disproportionate.

Although primarily a diagnosis of exclusion, a person is not diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder merely because a physiological cause for their symptoms cannot be readily identified. Rather, the emphasis should be on the extent to which the thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to the illness are excessive or out or proportion, following clinical investigation. Risk factors for somatic symptom disorder include a history of past trauma, anxiety or depression, and having another severe medical condition or recent recovery from one.

Proving a disability claim based on a somatic symptom disorder will require documentation from an acceptable medical source, as well as evidence that the disorder precludes the claimant from working. Disability adjudicators will look to objective medical evidence established by medically acceptable clinical diagnostic techniques or laboratory findings. They must also evaluate your symptoms, looking to see whether there is an underlying medical condition that could reasonably cause such symptomology.

Disability adjudicators should accept the diagnosis if there are symptoms of altered voluntary motor or sensory function that are not better explained by another medical disorder; symptoms of excessive thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to the symptoms; or a preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness without significant symptoms (hypochondriasis is a form of somatic dysfunction). If the evidence also shows extreme or marked limitations in concentration, understanding information, interacting with others, or adapting and managing activities of daily living, there is a good chance the adjudicator will approve the disability claim.

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