Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Overview of Somatization


Joel E. Dimsdale

, MD, University of California, San Diego

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
Click here for Patient Education

Somatization is the expression of mental phenomena as physical (somatic) symptoms. Disorders characterized by somatization extend in a continuum from those in which symptoms develop unconsciously and nonvolitionally to those in which symptoms develop consciously and volitionally. This continuum includes

  • Somatic symptom and related disorders

  • Factitious disorders

  • Malingering (not a psychiatric disorder)

In all of the disorders, patients focus prominently on somatic concerns. Thus, somatization typically leads patients to seek medical evaluation and treatment rather than psychiatric care.

Somatic symptom disorder and related disorders are characterized by persistent physical symptoms that are associated with excessive or maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to these symptoms and associated health concerns. These disorders are distressing and often impair social, occupational, academic, or other aspects of functioning. They include

Somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder are the most common.

Factitious disorders involve the falsification of physical or psychologic symptoms and/or signs in the absence of obvious external incentives (eg, obtaining time off from work, disability payments, or drugs of abuse; avoiding military service or criminal prosecution). The term Munchausen syndrome is no longer used for factitious disorders.

Malingering is intentional feigning of physical or psychologic symptoms motivated by an external incentive, which distinguishes malingering from factitious disorders.

Click here for Patient Education
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: Click here for the Consumer Version
Professionals also read
Test your knowledge
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder is a period of intrusive recollections that occurs after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The characteristics of this disorder differ from those of posttraumatic stress disorder in which of the following ways?
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest