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Psychological Factors Affecting Other Medical Conditions

By Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego

Psychological factors affecting other medical conditions is diagnosed when attitudes or behaviors have a negative effect on a medical disorder that the person has.

People's attitudes or behavior can negatively affect any disorder (such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, or migraines) or symptom (such as pain). Attitudes and behavior can make a disorder or symptoms worse, sometimes resulting in hospitalization or a visit to an emergency department. For example, severe stress can temporarily weaken the heart, or chronic work-related stress can increase the risk of high blood pressure. The risk of suffering, death, or disability due to the disorder can be increased.

Factors that can worsen a medical condition include the following:

  • Denying the significance or severity of symptoms

  • Denying the need for treatment

  • Not following the prescribed treatment plan

  • Not getting the recommended tests

Psychological factors affecting other medical conditions is diagnosed if a psychological factor clearly affects how a disorder progresses.

Treatment involves

  • Teaching people about the effects of psychological factors or behavior

  • Psychotherapy