CSU professor talks about somatoform disorders during "My Favorite Lecture"

Here at Colorado State University, we have Michael Steger. Steger is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. Just this week (Wednesday, February 15, 2012), he was the guest speaker in the “My Favorite Lecture” series.

This series is hosted by The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at CSU. The series is intended to allow students to learn about a variety of disciplines without taking a full class in the subject area.

Steger taught us about somatoform disorders.

Somatoform disorders are disorders in which we think something is happening to our bodies but there is no known medical cause.

These problems can end up costing the patients a lot of money. The cheaper medical tests don’t find a cause, so people pay for more expensive tests.

Before you think people with somatoform disorders are faking, Steger showed brain imaging scans.

People who claim to have a paralyzed, numb limb have no brain activation in response to stimulation to that limb. This means that the area in the brain (the somatosensory cortex) does not respond to touching, being pinched or to ice cold water.

This numbing paralyzation in the *somato*sensory cortex of people who have *somato*form disorder is called conversion disorder. And it can appear after stress.

Steger says that there are other somatoform disorders as well.

When we constantly believe we are ill from innocent symptoms like a single cough or a change in taste (our taste changes throughout our lifetime), we probably have hypochondriasis.

Somatization disorder will be very expensive for you if you have it. Over the course or many years, imagine you have

4 pain symptoms. You have pain in 4 different areas such as your head, your joints, or other areas.
2 gastrointestinal symptoms. You have nausea, diarrhea, intolerance to many foods, or anything else gastrointestinal, but without a known medical cause.
1 sexual symptom. This is without physical pain for you and can erectile dysfunction or vomiting through the entire pregnancy.
1 pseudoneurological symptom. You have at least one symptom that should have a neurological basis such as difficulty swallowing or seizures.

For more details on somatization symptoms, visit PsychCentral.

While there are many more somatoform disorders, Steger spent time on only one more, body dsymorphic disorder. This is the diagnosis when you or I are obsessed with an imagined or slight defect in our body.

We may undergo plastic surgery to correct the defect but are not satisfied afterwards. We may attempt suicide because we cannot bare the defect.

Steger says that these disorders may seem familiar. Maybe we do worry about a body part. Maybe we worry that a small lump could be the only signal of a potentially fatal disease.

These are disorders when they interfere with our lives. These are disorders when we become completely preoccupied with the problem. A mysterious lump may be cause for worry, we may have it checked out, but when (I hope when) the test results come back negative for a disease, we can continue on with our lives.

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