psychosomatic illness

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.


folk illness the experience of symptoms that are not identifiable with biomedical categories of disease; causes include natural forces, supernatural factors, interpersonal factors, and emotions. An example is susto, which is a Hispanic term for fright caused by a traumatic experience. Symptoms include listlessness, loss of appetite, and withdrawal. Curanderos (folk healers) treat the illness with prayers, rituals, and laying on of hands.
psychosomatic illness somatoform disorder.


pertaining to the interrelations of mind and body; having bodily symptoms of psychic, emotional, or mental origin.
psychosomatic disorder (psychosomatic illness) a disorder in which the physical symptoms are caused or exacerbated by psychological factors, such as migraine headache, lower back pain, or irritable bowel syndrome; see also somatoform disorders. It is now recognized that emotional factors play a role in the development of nearly all organic illnesses and that the physical symptoms experienced by the patient are related to many interdependent factors, including psychological and cultural. The physical manifestations of an illness, unless caused by mechanical trauma, cannot be divorced from a person's emotional life. Each person responds in a unique way to stress; emotions affect one's sensitivity to trauma and to irritating elements in the environment, susceptibility to infection, and ability to recover from the effects of illness. Physical conditions to which psychological factors are shown to be contributory are currently classified as psychological factors affecting medical condition. Any physical condition can be so classified, but the most frequently included are asthma, peptic ulcer, bowel disorders, cardiovascular disorders, arthritis, allergy, headache, and certain endocrine disorders. In recent years there has been some success in using behavior therapy to treat these and other illnesses whose symptoms are related to the autonomic nervous system. Clients are taught new ways of coping with stress and new patterns of behavior. Among the techniques used are biofeedback, relaxation training, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning using social and material reinforcement.


1. Sickness; disease.
2. An ailment.

catabolic illness

Rapid weight loss with loss of body fat and muscle mass that frequently accompanies short-term, self-limiting conditions such as infection or injury. This condition may be associated with diabetic ketoacidosis, multiple organ system failure, and chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.


Inflammation should be reduced and appropriate nutrients provided.

catastrophic illness

An unusually prolonged or complex illness, esp. one that causes severe organ dysfunction or threatens life. Catastrophic illnesses often make exceptional demands on patients, caregivers, families, and health care resources.

decompression illness

Aeroembolism due to an excessively rapid ascent to the surface by a deep-sea diver. Synonym: bends; caisson disease; Synonym: diver's palsy See: aeroembolism


Affected patients should be transported to specialized treatment centers where recompression or hyperbaric chambers are available.

folk illness

A disease or condition found only in specific societies, ethnic groups, or cultures. Often the culture has causal explanations for these illnesses, as well as preventive and treatment measures. Well-known examples are present in the Hispanic American culture (e.g., empacho, caida de mollera, mal de ojo, susto). These are diagnosed and treated by folk healers called curanderos. Some other examples of folk illnesses include amok and piblokto, though numerous other examples exist within multiple cultures. See: amok; piblokto

functional illness

Functional disease.

heat illness

A general term used to describe the harmful effects on the human body of being exposed to high temperature and/or humidity.
See: tableheat cramp; heat exhaustion for table; heatstroke; syncope

influenza-like illness

Abbreviation: ILI
Any disease of the respiratory tract that causes cough, fever, malaise, headache, sore throat, and fatigue. ILI can be caused by rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial virus, coronaviruses, adenoviruses, rickettsia, and other infectious microorganisms.

mass psychogenic illness

Mass sociogenic illness.

mass sociogenic illness

Abbreviation: MSI
An unexplained, self-limiting illness characterized by nonspecific symptoms among people in a social setting such as a school, workplace, church, or military group. The onset is usually rapid and may occur after an unusual or peculiar odor is detected. Symptoms may include dizziness, weakness, headache, abdominal pain, rash, itching, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, and fainting. There are no laboratory studies to confirm an etiologic agent. Resolution of the mass illness may occur when those affected are reassured that it is not due to a toxic substance or disease.
Synonym: mass psychogenic illness

mental illness

Any disorder that affects mood or behavior.

occupational illness

Any acute or chronic disorder associated with or caused by an individual's occupation.
See: table; chronic lead poisoning
ConditionExposed Workers
AnemiaLead (battery reclaimers, shipyard workers)
AsbestosisShipyard workers and others exposed to asbestos fibers
AsthmaMeat wrappers, woodworkers, those exposed to platinum, nickel, solder, ammonia, cotton dust, formaldehyde, pesticides
ByssinosisCotton textile workers
CancerPeople who work with radioactive materials (health care, lab workers), x-ray workers (industrial and health care), miners
Carpal tunnel syndromeTypists, computer programmers, and other people who work with their hands
Contact dermatitisHealth care workers using latex gloves, and florists
Decompression sicknessDivers, marine salvage workers
Hearing impairmentPeople who work in noisy environments without adequate ear protection
PneumoconiosisCoal miners
PneumonitisWood workers (esp. red cedar), mushroom growers, cheese handlers, and farmers
SilicosisMiners, foundry workers
Skin granulomasBeryllium workers (e.g., in auto or aircraft industries)
Tennis or golfer's elbowCarpenters, plumbers, and athletes
Vibration syndrome, including Raynaud's phenomenonTruck drivers, hand-vibrating drill operators, jackhammer workers
SOURCE: Starkey, C, Brown, S, and Ryan, J: Examination of Orthopedic and Athletic Injuries, ed 3, FA Davis, Philadelphia, 2010. *As determined by the rectal temperature ** Within normal limits for an exercising athlete
Evaluation FindingHeat CrampsHeat SyncopeHeat ExhaustionHeat Stroke
Hydration StatusDehydratedDehydratedDehydratedDehydrated
Core Temperature*Within normal limits**Within normal limits102° – 104°F (38.9° – 40°C)Greater than 104°F (40°C)
Skin Color and TemperatureWithin normal limitsWithin normal limitsCool/clammyHot
PulseWithin normal limitsDecreasedRapid and weakIncreased
Blood PressureWithin normal limitsA sudden, imperceptible drop in blood pressure, which rapidly returns to normalLowHigh
RespirationWithin normal limitsWithin normal limitsHyperventilationRapid hyperventilation
Mental StateWithin normal limitsFatigueDizzinessDizziness
Possible fatigueDizzinessFatigueDrowsiness
FaintingSlight confusionConfusion/ disorientation
Emotional instability
Violent Behavoir
Neuromuscular ChangesCramping in one or more musclesMuscle crampsWeakness
WeaknessDecerebrate posture
Gastrointestinal and Urinary ChangesIntestinal CrampingNausea
Decreased Urinary output
Central Nervous SystemSyncopeHeadache
Other FindingsThirst“Tunnel vision” may be reportedThirstDilated pupils
Loss of appetite (anorexia)

psychosomatic illness

See: somatoform disorder

Southern tick–associated rash illness

See: Southern tick–associated rash illness

terminal illness

A final, fatal illness.

Patient care

The health care professional supports the patient and family by anticipating their loss and grief and helps the patient to deal with fear, pain and suffering, hopelessness, dependency, disability, loss of self-esteem, and loss of pleasure. Hospice care is provided if desired and available. The patient receives caring comfort and help in adjusting to decreased quality of life to ensure that death occurs with dignity.

References in periodicals archive ?
This restores to the psychosomatic illness its characteristic as a point of intersection between biological and psychosocial factors, taking on the physiognomy of a complex situation.
Medical historian Edward Shorter of the University of Toronto calls related cases of psychosomatic illness "epidemic hysteria." As a historian, he finds the GWS phenomenon tragic yet "fascinating." Says Shorter, "Just as cholera is spread by water droplets, epidemic hysteria is spread by the media."
One of the most important facets of the history of psychosomatic illness is its obvious connection to relations between the sexes.
But precisely because Darwin is so strongly associated with those well-known theories and controversies, we do expect a discussion of any psychosomatic illness he suffered to be related to evolution, or to the issue of religion and science more generally.
Stanford University's VRIT Lab & Clinic has been exploring treatment interventions for psychosomatic illnesses using mirror visual feedback.
The main causes determining the psychosomatic illnesses are (Selie Gh., 1982):
There are, however, theories centering on how the brain and the autonomic nervous system process information, and I believe some of these have great merit in working with psychosomatic illness if used differently from the psychoanalytical, conflict-resolution type model that works on transferences, suppressions, and repressions.
Schopenhauer's Porcupines recounts five stories from Luepnitz's practice, with patients who range from the superrich to the homeless, as they grapple with panic attacks, psychosomatic illness, marital despair, and sexual recklessness.
If we don't find a healthy way to deal with them they can surface later as physical problems or psychosomatic illness, low self-esteem or even depression.
But none of this confirms that IBS is a psychosomatic illness. An organic cause may eventually be identified, he said.
Ziem grants the possibility that some patients simply have psychosomatic illness. "If their lab results are negative," she says, "it looks like more of a personality thing." But somehow her tests are never negative.
Kenneth Fung said that he does psychological and "spiritual histories" of patients where psychosomatic illness is suspected.