From hysteria to somatic symptom disorders: searching for a common psychopathological ground

S. Ferrari (1), N. Poloni (2), A. Diefenbacher (3), A. Barbosa (4), F. Cosci (5)

1 Department of Diagnostic-Clinical Medicine and Public Health, University of Modena & Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy; 2 Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Insubria, Varese, Italy; 3 Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany; 4 Department of Psychiatry, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal; 5 Department of Health Sciences, University of Florence, Florence, Italy.


After decades of manifold contributions aimed at defining hysteria, somatisation and conversion, such syndromes are still neglected and their nosographical definition is debated. The DSM and the ICD have undergone major changes, but their clinical utility with regards to these syndromes is still questionable. On the contrary, the Diagnostic Criteria for Psychosomatic Research represents a useful clinical instrument since it translates psychosocial variables derived from psychosomatic research into operational tools. The present paper offers an overview on the psychopathological description of syndromes such as alexithymia, hypochondriasis, health anxiety, thanatophobia, conversion symptoms, anniversary and reaction which are frequent in clinical practice, but often misdiagnosed due to their absence in the DSM and the ICD. In addition, the influence of culture and cultural changes on the modifications of psychopathological manifestations is described as a further possible source of misdiagnosing and underreporting. New psychopathologies (e.g., multiple chemical sensitivity, orthorexia/vigorexia) that resemble conversion and/or somatisation have been developed, but neither is included in nosography nor taught to clinicians. The aim of the present paper is thus to describe psychopathological manifestations of somatic symptoms and related disorders to help clinicians formulate their diagnosis on the presence of signs and symptoms that can be elicited during a clinical visit, rather than by way of exclusion of other organic or psychiatric disease only.

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