Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders Symptoms & Causes

Symptoms in children and adolescents with SSDs

The chart below lists some of the many somatic symptoms a child or adolescent with an SSD may experience. Some youth have just one kind of symptom; others have many symptoms in different parts of their body. The type and location of symptoms can also change over time.

Common symptoms of Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

General symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • dry mouth
  • hot or cold sweats
  • dizziness, headaches
  • trouble concentrating
  • trouble with memory, etc.

Symptoms from the stomach and gastrointestinal tract

  • Stomach pain or bloating
  • feeling “full” after only a few bites
  • frequent burping
  • burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loose stools or diarrhea

Symptoms from the heart and lungs

  • Palpitations
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing/shortness of breath

Symptoms from the musculoskeletal system

  • Arm or leg pain
  • muscle aches and pains
  • joint pains, back pain
  • pain when moving

Symptoms from the neurologic motor system

  • Weakness or paralysis
  • abnormal movements (i.e., tremors, stiff/rigid movements, episodes of abnormal generalized limb shaking)
  • abnormal limb postures
  • abnormalities with gait/walking

Symptoms from the neurologic sensory system

  • Altered
  • reduced, or absent vision or hearing
  • reduced or absent speech volume; altered speech articulation
  • skin numbness
  • sensation of a lump in the throat
  • episodes of unresponsiveness resembling fainting or coma

Adapted from American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, 2013.

How do the somatic symptoms happen?

The brain is a powerful organ. In addition to being responsible for processing our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, the brain manages all of the body’s functions, from sensations like pain, touch and temperature to movements of our limbs, our heartbeat, bowel and bladder function and more. Think of the brain as a control tower that sends and receives messages, or “signals,” from the entire body, carried by the nerves. The mind-body connection is very real!

When the mind-body connection works well, the brain filters out unimportant signals without us even knowing. However, children and adolescents with SSDs tend to have hypersensitive signals and become aware of body signals that are normally filtered out by the brain. The brain and parts of the body where there is no disease may also start signaling to each other more frequently. For instance, some children with SSDs have many signals in the brain’s pain centers, which can make pain feel worse and may even show up on brain scans.

During childhood, SSDs are equally common in boys and girls, but in adolescence and adulthood, they are more common in females. Up to half of children and adolescents with an SSD also experience depression and anxiety.