What is Somatic OCD

Do you feel a pervasive, deep-seated fear of physical harm that is wreaking havoc on your mental well-being? If so, there is a chance that you may be experiencing symptoms of somatic obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But what is Somatic OCD?

Somatic OCD is not as widely recognized as the traditional version of this psychological condition, however, it does share many similarities. This blog post will provide an in-depth exploration into what somatic OCD entails; its signs and symptoms; diagnosis and treatment considerations; as well as resources to help manage this oftentimes debilitating disorder.

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What is Somatic OCD?

Somatic OCD, also known as somatic symptom disorder (SSD), is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that revolves around physical symptoms and health-related fears. It involves excessive worry and preoccupation with one’s body, leading to compulsive behaviors such as checking for signs of illness or seeking reassurance from medical professionals.

While traditional OCD often focuses on fears and worries related to contamination or harm, somatic OCD is characterized by a preoccupation with bodily sensations, functions, and perceived abnormalities. This can include anything from fearing one has a serious illness to constantly checking for physical symptoms.

How does Somatic OCD differ from OCD?

While somatic OCD shares similar characteristics with other types of OCD, such as unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors, it is unique in its focus on bodily sensations and health concerns. Unlike traditional OCD, which often involves mental rituals or counting compulsions, somatic obsessions tend to revolve around physical symptoms.

Additionally, individuals with somatic OCD may struggle with hypochondria or health anxiety, which can further exacerbate their obsessions and compulsions.

Signs and Symptoms

Somatic OCD manifests in various ways, but some of the most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Excessive worry about one’s physical health and well-being
  • Constantly checking for signs of illness or perceived abnormalities in the body
  • Engaging in excessive hygiene rituals, such as constantly washing one’s hands or avoiding certain objects out of fear of contamination
  • Seeking reassurance from medical professionals, family, or friends about one’s health concerns
  • Avoiding situations or activities that may trigger health-related worries
  • Experiencing significant distress and impairment in daily functioning due to these symptoms and behaviors

Causes of Somatic OCD

The exact cause of somatic OCD is unknown, but research suggests that it may be a combination of genetic, environmental, and biological factors.


Studies have shown a strong hereditary component in OCD, with individuals who have a first-degree relative with the disorder being at a higher risk of developing OCD themselves. However, it is unclear if this same pattern applies to somatic OCD specifically.

Environmental Factors:

Traumatic events or significant stressors may trigger the onset of somatic obsessions and compulsions in some individuals. For example, a person who has experienced a serious illness or injury may become overly preoccupied with their health as a result.

Biological Factors:

Brain imaging studies have shown differences in the brain structure and functioning of individuals with OCD compared to those without the disorder. This suggests that there may be neurobiological abnormalities involved in the development of OCD, including somatic OCD.

Effects of Somatic OCD

Somatic OCD can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, causing them to feel anxious, isolated, and even depressed. It can also lead to physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, due to the constant stress and worry.

In addition, individuals with somatic OCD may face challenges in relationships and work due to their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. They may also struggle with financial difficulties, as seeking medical help or engaging in hygiene rituals can be expensive.

Diagnosis of Somatic OCD

Somatic OCD is typically diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, through a thorough evaluation and assessment of symptoms. They may also use tools and criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to make a diagnosis.

It is important to note that somatic OCD can often be misdiagnosed, as its symptoms can overlap with other mental health disorders and even certain medical conditions. This is why it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

Treatment Options

Like traditional OCD, somatic OCD can be effectively treated through a combination of therapy, medication, and self-help strategies. Some common treatment approaches include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to OCD symptoms. It can also help individuals develop coping skills to manage their worries and fears.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): This form of CBT specifically targets the avoidance behaviors and rituals associated with somatic OCD. It involves gradually exposing oneself to feared situations or triggers and learning to resist the urge to perform compulsive behaviors.
  • Medication: While medication is not a cure for somatic OCD, it can help alleviate symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed for this condition, as they have been found to be effective in treating both traditional OCD and somatic OCD.
  • Mindfulness techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing, and body awareness can help individuals with somatic OCD learn to manage their anxiety and reduce obsessive thoughts.
  • Support groups: Connecting with others who have similar experiences can provide a sense of understanding and validation for those living with somatic OCD. It can also be helpful to hear about different coping strategies and treatment approaches from others who are going through a similar journey.
  • Self-care: It’s important for individuals with somatic OCD to prioritize self-care and engage in activities that bring them joy and relaxation. This can help reduce overall stress levels and improve mental well-being.

How do you sleep with somatic OCD?

Here are some tips to help manage symptoms of somatic OCD and promote better sleep:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation before bed.
  2. Create a calm and comfortable sleeping environment.
  3. Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
  4. Avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as using electronic devices or watching intense television shows.
  5. Talk to a therapist or doctor about any medication options that may help with sleep and OCD symptoms.

Somatic Obsessions

Somatic obsessions, also known as somatic OCD, involve intense and intrusive thoughts about one’s physical health or bodily sensations. These obsessions can manifest in various ways, such as worrying excessively about having a serious illness or being hyperaware of bodily sensations that are perceived as abnormal.

Some common themes of somatic obsessions include fear of:

  • Having a heart attack or other life-threatening condition
  • Contracting a disease or illness
  • Losing control over bodily functions
  • Developing physical deformities or abnormalities

These obsessions can lead to various compulsive behaviors, such as constantly checking one’s body for signs of illness, seeking reassurance from others, and avoiding certain activities or situations that may trigger anxiety.

Examples of somatic obsessive thoughts could include:

  • “What if this headache is a sign of a brain tumor?”
  • “I can’t go to the gym because I might have a heart attack.”
  • “My stomach feels weird, I must have food poisoning.”

Somatic OCD can significantly impact an individual’s daily life and overall well-being. It may cause distress, interfere with relationships and work, and lead to a decreased quality of life.

Somatic Compulsions

Individuals with somatic OCD may engage in various compulsive behaviors to try and ease their anxiety and alleviate their obsessions. Some common somatic compulsions include:

  • Checking one’s body for signs of illness or abnormalities
  • Seeking reassurance from others about one’s health
  • Avoiding certain activities or situations that trigger anxiety
  • Excessive hand washing or cleanliness rituals to prevent illness
  • Repeatedly checking one’s body for perceived deformities or abnormalities

In severe cases, individuals may also seek unnecessary medical tests and procedures, leading to significant financial strain and potential harm from invasive procedures.


Many people have a question what is somatic OCD? Somatic OCD is a subtype of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to health and physical well-being.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing somatic OCD, it is important to seek professional help to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Remember, it is not a weakness to seek help, but a sign of strength and resilience. So don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Stay well!


Some of the frequently asked questions by people are mentioned below:

What is a somatic OCD symptom?

A somatic OCD symptom is an obsessive thought or compulsive behavior related to health and physical well-being. This can include excessive worry about one’s health, repeated checking of the body for perceived abnormalities, and seeking reassurance from others.

Is somatic OCD serious?

Yes, somatic OCD can be a serious condition that significantly impacts an individual’s daily life and relationships. It can also lead to unnecessary medical tests and procedures, causing financial strain and potential harm.

What are the effects of somatic OCD?

Some potential effects may include increased anxiety, difficulty functioning in daily life, strained relationships, and physical harm from invasive procedures.

Is somatic OCD treatable?

Yes, somatic OCD is treatable through therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Seeking professional help and following treatment plans can greatly improve symptoms and quality of life for individuals with somatic OCD.

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