A common feature of a Somatoform disorder is the presence of physical symptoms that suggest a general medical condition that may not be fully explained by a general medical condition. The symptoms are not feigned, however a psychological role is related to the physical symptoms. An Highly Sensitive Person that has not learned to interpret their bodies heightened stress response to intense emotional reactivity, could definitely develop symptoms that lead to a somatoform disorder or other chronic physical illness.
Five Somatoform Disorders that may co-occur with the high sensitivity trait are:
1. Somatisation Disorder
2. Conversion Disorder
3. Pain Disorder
5. Body Dysmorphic Disorder
It can be hard to differentiate between being Highly Sensitive and Somatization Disorder because symptoms for HSPs may be experienced as highly significant and reoccurring due to higher body awareness, lower pain thresholds and having more reactive immune systems. A somatization disorder will occur over years, and be characterized by a combination of pain, gastrointestinal, sexual and pseudoneurological symptoms that cause significant impairment in social, occupational and daily functioning.
Highly Sensitive People can be misdiagnosed with Conversion Disorder due to their high body awareness and not necessarily being able to explain what they are experiencing. Particularly young people whom have not yet learned to interpret their bodies reactions and manage their symptoms. A conversion disorder involves unexplained symptoms or deficits affecting voluntary motor or sensory function that suggest a neurological or medical condition, but are not explained by one. Psychological factors are involved and significant impairment occurs in daily functioning.
Highly Sensitve People have a lower pain threshold, are more aware of symptoms in their bodies, and are more concerned about their pains. They are also more affected by substances, medications and food products like caffeine etc. A Pain Disorder however, is characterised by pain in one or more anatomical sites and is the predominant focus of clinical attention. Psychological factors play a role in onset, severity, exacerbation or maintenance of the pain. Distress causes impairment in social, occupational and daily functioning.
Highly Sensitive People often do have a fear of being incorrectly diagnosed and about doctors making errors even after they have been reassured. They may even want more tests than recommended. At times their symptoms may be experienced with exaggerated effect, however this does not mean they are feigned for attention purposes. Infact it is the opposite for the HSP, they are less likely to speak up and push for further testing or double checking as they would not want the Doctor to think they are overreacting. A Doctor may think it is all in their head, when in reality, it is in their genetic makeup to feel symptoms more intensely. Hypochondriasis is a preoccupation with fear of having, or the idea of having a serious disease based on the misinterpretation of bodily symptoms, which persists despite medical evaluation and reassurance. The concern is excessive, but not delusional and causes clinically significant distress, impairing daily functioning.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD):
An Highly Sensitive Person may suffer from an exaggerated or imagined perspective of their bodily defects. However what makes it Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a preoccupation with their imagined or exaggerated defect in physical appearance, to the point of excessive concern, significant distress, and impairment in social, occupation or other areas of functioning.
Dr Elaine Aron has distinguished the difference between high sensitivity and somatoform disorders in a book she has written for Psychotherapists. This page offers a very brief comparison based on her distinctions to assist your understanding. Please note that this information is not intended to substitute professional medical treatment and is not adequate for a diagnosis of an Somatoform Disorder.