Conversion Disorder

Conversion disorder is a condition that causes physical symptoms as a result of psychological stress. This disorder, also known as pseudoneurologic syndrome, hysterical neurosis or psychogenic disorder, is uncontrollable and usually involves the senses or motor movements. An example may include reaction to a car accident in which a patient was not hurt. If paralysis of the legs suddenly develops, though no physical ailments are present to cause such an episode, conversion disorder may be the cause.

Symptoms of Conversion Disorder

Symptoms of conversion disorder primarily involve the senses, such as speech, sight or hearing, or motor functionality, by hindering use of the limbs. These symptoms are not caused by a physical ailment, but rather by a psychologically stressful event which leads to the manifestation of physical symptoms. These symptoms may have a sudden onset and can be frightening, but they usually subside rather quickly. People from different parts of the world are affected by conversion disorder differently, depending upon cultural and geographical details. The most common symptoms of conversion disorder in the United States and other western countries are:

  • Temporary paralysis of one or more limbs
  • Numbness or tingling in one or various parts of the body
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Movement disorders, such as tremors
  • Blindness or blurred vision
  • Loss of speech capabilities

Causes of Conversion Disorder

The reason conversion disorder affects some and not others remains a mystery, but the immediate cause for this condition in some patients is a stressful event that causes significant emotional pain or imbalance. Most research concludes that there is significant gain to be had by allowing symptoms of conversion disorder; that of the release of anxiety and emotional stress by redirecting it into a physical symptom, and that of attention from others and removal from the stressful event by redirecting focus on a new problem. Physical, emotional or sexual abuse tends to leave victims more susceptible to this disorder, and children who have faced abuse, family dysfunction or significant loss may develop symptoms.

Diagnosis of Conversion Disorder

Due to the nature of symptoms, conversion disorder may be difficult to diagnose. Generally, testing is used to rule out any type of physical ailment that may contribute to symptoms, and these tests vary according to those symptoms. Appropriate laboratory, blood and imaging tests are helpful, and once any suspected illnesses have been ruled out, a psychological evaluation is typically ordered. There are quite a few tests that can help to identify conversion disorder as well. Depending upon the symptoms present, a doctor may use mirrors to check eyesight, put pressure upon limbs to check for paralysis or monitor of the pulse and body reactions for other cases. Results of these types of bedside tests can often be very revealing when concluding that conversion disorder may be present.

Treatment Options for Conversion Disorder

One or more types of therapy are generally the most beneficial when treating conversion disorder. Due to the emotional stress that may be directly linked to symptoms, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication may be recommended. Psychotherapy may help children or adults by uncovering certain root causes for symptoms, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help a patient learn to become aware of triggers and develop alternative ways of coping with stress. Family therapy can be especially helpful for children who are under significant stress. If outpatient therapy is unsuccessful, sometimes children may be hospitalized. Not only does this allow for more thorough investigation on possible organic causes, such as viruses or disease, but can also allow the child to recover from an abusive or dysfunctional situation at home. Any type of alternative treatment, such as meditation, hypnosis or homeopathic remedies can always promote healing on a whole-body level.