What is Psychogenic Disease?

Introduction

Psychogenic disease (or psychogenic illness) is a name given to physical illnesses that are believed to arise from emotional or mental stressors, or from psychological or psychiatric disorders.

Background

It is most commonly applied to illnesses where a physical abnormality or other biomarker has not yet been identified. In the absence of such biological evidence of an underlying disease process, it is often assumed that the illness must have a psychological cause, even if the patient shows no indications of being under stress or of having a psychological or psychiatric disorder. Examples of diseases that are believed by many to be psychogenic include psychogenic seizures, psychogenic polydipsia, psychogenic tremor, and psychogenic pain.

There are problems with the assumption that all medically unexplained illness must have a psychological cause. It always remains possible that genetic, biochemical, electrophysiological, or other abnormalities may be present which we do not have the technology or background to identify.

The term psychogenic disease is often used in a similar way to psychosomatic disease. However, the term psychogenic usually implies that psychological factors played a key causal role in the development of the illness. The term psychosomatic is often used in a broader way to describe illnesses with a known medical cause where psychological factors may nonetheless play a role (e.g. asthma can be exacerbated by anxiety).

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