Conversion disorder is a neurological/psychiatric disorder. It is one of a group of psychological disorders called somatoform disorders.
Conversion disorder can be difficult to diagnose, but it is treatable.
The direct cause of conversion disorder is usually experiencing a very stressful or traumatic event. The disorder can be considered the way someone copes, or as a psychological expression of the event. An example of this is a person who loses his voice following a situation in which he was afraid to speak.
Conversion disorder is more common in women and adolescents. Other factors that may increase the risk of conversion disorder include:
It is important to understand that person affected is not consciously acting out or pretending. Symptoms of conversion disorder are real, but lack a connection to any known organic medical diagnoses. Conversion disorder may cause:
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To be diagnosed with conversion disorder you must have at least 1 symptom, but you may also have many. The appearance of symptoms is linked to the stressful event and typically occur suddenly.
Diagnosis of conversion disorder may be difficult. Physical causes for your symptoms will be considered first. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
The electrical activity in your body may be tested. This can be done with:
Images of internal body structures may be taken with:
If no physical cause is detected, the patient may either be referred to a neurologist or a psychiatrist for a consultation.
Psychological disorders can carry a feeling of being stigmatized. It is important that you do not let this prevent you from seeking treatment.
In some cases, conversion disorder goes away on its own. Treatment consists of counseling and psychotherapy (especially cognitive behavioral therapy). It may also involve identifying and removing environmental triggers to decrease anything stimulating the conversion disorder.
If underlying anxiety or depression is also occurring, medications may be used to help treat those conditions.
It is important to be consistent with treatment to help prevent a recurrence of the disorder.
Therapy may be needed to overcome disuse/paralysis of a limb and to relearn normal behaviors.
American Psychological Association
American Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Conversion disorder. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/somatic-symptom-and-related-disorders/conversion-disorder. Updated November 2013. Accessed June 15, 2016.
Conversion disorder. National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: http://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/conversion-disorder/. Published 2003. Accessed June 15, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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