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Conversion disorder

 

Definition

Conversion disorder is a condition in which a person has blindness, paralysis, or other nervous system (neurologic) symptoms that cannot be explained.

Alternative Names

Hysterical neurosis

Causes

Conversion disorder symptoms may occur because of emotional distress or psychological problems.

Symptoms usually begin suddenly after a stressful experience. People are more at risk for a conversion disorder if they also have a medical illness, dissociative disorder, or personality disorder.

Some doctors falsely believe that conversion disorder and similar disorders are not real conditions, and may tell patients that the problem is "all in your head." However, these conditions are real. They cause distress and cannot be turned on and off at will. Research on the mind-body connection may eventually increase understanding of these disorders.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a conversion disorder include the loss of one or more bodily functions, such as:

  • Blindness
  • Inability to speak
  • Numbness
  • Paralysis

Diagnostic testing does not find any physical cause for the symptoms.

Signs and tests

Common signs of conversion disorder include:

  • A debilitating symptom that begins suddenly
  • A history of a psychological problem that gets better after the symptom appears
  • A lack of concern that usually occurs with a severe symptom

Your doctor will do a physical examination, and possibly diagnostic tests, to rule out physical causes for the symptom.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms usually last for days to weeks and may suddenly go away. Usually the symptom itself is not life threatening, but complications can be debilitating.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you or someone you know has symptoms of a conversion disorder.

Complications

Treatments

Psychotherapy and stress management training may help reduce symptoms. The affected body part or physical function will need physical or occupational therapy until the symptoms disappear. For example, paralyzed limbs must be exercised to prevent muscle wasting.

Prevention

References

Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Conversion disorder. In: Moore DP, Jefferson JW, eds. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2004: chap 91.

Ferri FF. Conversion disorder. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2008: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.


Review Date: 10/17/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Timothy A. Rogge, MD, private practice in Psychiatry, Kirkland, Washington. Also reviewed byDavid Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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