Psychosomatic Medicine, a medical approach that emphasizes mental factors as a cause of disease. The term derives from Greek words meaning “mind” and “body.” Psychosomatic medicine is not a specialty or branch of medical science, but a concept of health and illness that takes into consideration the interaction of a person's mental processes and body organs.
Most studies of mind-body relationships have been made by workers in the field of psychiatry, the branch of medicine concerned with mental illness. However, there is general acceptance in all branches of medicine that thought processes and emotional reactions alter the function of body tissues, and may—if long continued—alter their structure. Physicians also realize that bodily changes and abnormalities affect the mental processes.
One of the body systems most commonly affected by the emotions is the gastrointestinal tract, or digestive system. If a person becomes emotionally upset, he or she may become nauseated, experience loss of appetite, or suffer from diarrhea. Prolonged mental stress, especially if the sufferer is not fully aware of the anxiety, may contribute to the development of stomach ulcers.
Among other physical ailments that physicians believe are caused partly by mental stress are certain respiratory diseases, circulatory disorders (including high blood pressure), and such allergic responses as asthma, eczema, and migraine headache.
In psychosomatic medicine, psychiatrists try to help a patient modify the thought processes and emotional reactions that are contributing to the cause of the physical symptoms. Relaxation exercises are often used to relieve stress. Other techniques sometimes used include biofeedback and hypnotism.