DefinitionConversion 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.
CausesThe 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.
Risk FactorsConversion disorder is more common in women and adolescents. Other factors that may increase the chance of developing conversion disorder include:
- A previous history of personality or psychological disease
- Physical or sexual abuse, particularly in children
- Economic difficulties
- Low socioeconomic status
- Family members with either conversion disorder or chronic illness
- Co-existing psychiatric conditions such as depression or anxiety
- Co-existing personality disorders, such as histrionic, passive-dependent, or passive-aggressive personality disorder
SymptomsIt is important to understand that the symptoms of conversion disorder are involuntary. The 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:
- Impaired coordination and balance
- Paralysis of an arm or leg
- Loss of sensation in a part of the body
- Loss of a sense, such as blindness or deafness
- Inability to speak
- Difficulty swallowing or a sensation of a lump in the throat
- Sensory symptoms, such as;
- Loss of sense of pain
- Tingling or crawling sensations
|An emotional event may trigger physical symptoms.|
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DiagnosisDiagnosis of conversion disorder may be difficult. It is important for your doctor to carefully consider any physical causes for your symptoms. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) to evaluate electrical activity in the brain
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) to evaluate electrical activity in the heart
TreatmentPsychological 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 occuring, 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.
Physical and/or Occupational TherapyTherapy may be needed to overcome disuse/paralysis of a limb and to relearn normal behaviors.
PreventionConversion disorder can't be prevented because it occurs after a specific, traumatic event.
American Psychological Association
Psych.org - American Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Conversion disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 3, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2013.
Conversion disorder. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy website. Available at: .http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric%5Fdisorders/somatic%5Fsymptom%5Fand%5Frelated%5Fdisorders/conversion%5Fdisorder.html. Updated February 2012. Accessed July 22, 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 05/23/2014