But research in the past year from The Netherlands has confirmed a strong link between generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia, panic disorder and agoraphobia and experiences of pain – known as somatic symptoms.
The study of more than 2000 people found cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and general pain was “more prevalent in patients with depressive and/or anxiety disorders than in controls” and urged more research into whether pain control could help anxiety treatment.
Our health and beauty-obsessed media and the ability to attempt self-diagnoses online can already trigger anxiety in many people, but, for some, anxiety itself can create physical health problems.
Somatic symptom disorder is a recognised long-term condition linked to anxiety and depression, in which real pain and physical symptoms are experienced in more than one area of the body but cannot be linked to a physical cause.
Compared to Illness Anxiety Disorder, in which people are focused on their health and mis-self-diagnose normal bodily functions as being a medical problem, Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) involves the actual experience of pain.
Sufferers also seem to experience higher levels of pain which creates an ever-increasing spiral of anxiety and pain although, as yet, it is not understood specific links between how the mind experiences anxiety and the body translates this into pain. The Dutch study found no specific pain sites linked to any anxiety or depressive disorder “as almost all explained pain symptoms were associated with any depressive disorder and any anxiety disorder”.
SSD usually occurs in people over 30; is more prevalent in women compared to men; and is more likely (although not uniquely) found in people with a history of physical or sexual abuse.
The symptoms are chronic, are often linked to the digestive system, nervous system and reproductive system, and can last for years – they are often compounded by stress.
People who suffer with SSD run the risk of being dismissed by medical professionals who cannot find a physical diagnosis to the pain.
There’s also a risk that once a diagnosis of SSD is made, that sufferers miss diagnoses of non-somatic pain.
Anyone who has to cope with chronic pain is always at risk of becoming reliant on prescription pain medicating, or self-medicating with alcohol or other forms of drugs or medication.
As well as finding a course of treatment to help alleviate pain symptoms, seeking a supportive relationship with a mental health professional can help limit the somatic symptoms through limiting the level of anxiety.
Cognitive behaviour therapy and mindfulness techniques can help develop methods of coping with pain and recognise triggers which make the symptoms worse.
If you think you or anyone in your family is experiencing somatic symptoms linked to anxiety then it’s time to address both. For more information on Robert Street Clinic’s range of services, and a full list of our fully trained specialists contact us on 09 973 5950 or via email.