Many of us regularly experience a range of minor physical symptoms. Epidemiological studies estimate that 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the general population and 5 percent of those seen in general medical practice have symptoms that are deemed medically unexplained. Symptoms such as chest or abdominal pains, breathlessness, fatigue, headaches, backaches and gastric problems may not be caused by any serious medical factors or disease, but they cause a great deal of concern until a medical opinion is obtained. Most of us may find our symptoms transient and accept that there is nothing seriously wrong. We will think about and discuss our symptoms with friends and family and we will realize that we have been under stress and worried unnecessarily.
Some of us, despite a negative physical diagnosis and medical reassurance may continue to believe that there is a medical problem and may seek medical help numerous times, and have numerous medical tests. We may become extremely anxious about our health and preoccupied with the idea of having a medical condition. Of course, medically unexplained symptoms are not necessarily psychosomatic. There will always be diseases that stretch the limits of scientific knowledge. But among those with undiagnosed physical symptoms is a large group in whom the medically unexplained symptoms are present, wholly or partially, for psychological or behavioral reasons.
If the emotional distress of psychosomatic issues is so overwhelming that they cannot bear to feel it. In its place they may develop physical symptoms that mask their sadness and emotional distress. The very nature of the physical presentation of the symptoms hides the distress at its root, so it is natural that those affected seek a medical disease to explain their suffering.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help people who experience psychosomatic symptoms to realize that these symptoms happen for a reason. When words are not available, our body sometimes speaks for us—and it is important to listen to it.