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Case report
Somatic symptom disorder: a diagnostic dilemma
  1. Louise Dunphy,
  2. Marta Penna and
  3. Jihene EL-Kafsi
  1. Department of General Surgery, Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Louise Dunphy; Louise.Dunphy{at}


Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is a diagnosis that was introduced with publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) in 2013. It eliminated the diagnoses of somatisation disorder, undifferentiated somatoform disorder, hypochondriasis and pain disorder; most of the patients who previously received these diagnoses are now diagnosed in DSM-5 with SSD. The main feature of this disorder is a patient’s concern with physical symptoms for which no biological cause is found. It requires psychiatric assessment to exclude comorbid psychiatric disease. Failure to recognise this disorder may lead the unwary physician or surgeon to embark on investigations or diagnostic procedures which may result in iatrogenic complications. It also poses a significant financial burden on the healthcare service. Patients with non-specific abdominal pain have a poor symptomatic prognosis with continuing use of medical services. Proven treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness therapy and pharmacological treatment using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or tricyclic antidepressants. The authors describe the case of a 31-year-old woman with an emotionally unstable personality disorder and comorbid disease presenting to the emergency department with a 3-week history of left-sided abdominal and leg pain. Despite a plethora of investigations, no organic cause for her pain was found. She was reviewed by the multidisciplinary team including surgeons, physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists. A diagnosis of somatoform symptom disorder was subsequently rendered. As patients with SSD will present to general practice and the emergency department rather than psychiatric settings, this case provides a cautionary reminder of furthering the need for appropriate recognition of this condition.

  • emergency medicine
  • surgery

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  • Contributors LD wrote the case report. MP performed the literature review. JEL-K edited the final manuscript and approved the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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