Conversion Disorder

Definition

Conversion disorder is a type of somatoform disorder. People react to stress with problems that appear to start in the brain such as numbness or blindness.

Causes    TOP

Conversion disorder is caused by a very stressful or traumatic event. It's how someone copes with the event. The reaction comes out as a psychological expression. An example of this is a person who loses their voice because they're afraid to speak.

Risk Factors    TOP

Conversion disorder is more common in women and teens. Your risk may be higher for:

  • Having other mental health problems such as such as depression or anxiety
  • Having poor coping skills
  • Being abused as a child
  • Having money problems
  • Having family members mental health problems

Symptoms    TOP

The symptoms are real. The person who has them is not faking. But, there isn't a medical reason for having them. There may be problems with:

  • Balance
  • A paralyzed limb
  • Losing feeling in a part of the body
  • Vision or hearing
  • Speaking
  • Swallowing
  • Not feeling pain
  • Tingling or crawling sensations
  • Seizures

Nervous System

Nervous system posterior 3D
An emotional event may trigger physical symptoms.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis    TOP

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will have a physical exam to find a cause. You may also have:

  • Blood tests
  • EEG—to test brain activity
  • ECG—to test heart activity
  • Imaging tests such as x-rays

Treatment    TOP

In some cases, symptoms will go away on their own. If needed, it can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps you learn to handle stress. You will change how you think. This will help you gain control of your feelings. You will also find out the cause of the problems you’re having.

You may also need therapy to:

  • Build muscle strength
  • Learn daily tasks such as getting dressed

Prevention    TOP

There is no way to prevent conversion disorder since the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Psychiatric Association
https://www.psychiatry.org
National Institute of Mental Health
https://www.nimh.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://cmha.ca
Canadian Psychiatric Association
https://www.cpa-apc.org

References:

Conversion disorder. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/somatic-symptom-and-related-disorders/conversion-disorder. Updated January 2018. Accessed August 30, 2018.
Conversion disorder symptoms. Psych Central website. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/disorders/conversion-disorder-symptoms. Updated August 16, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2018.
Functional neurological disorder. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/fnd. Accessed August 30, 2018.
Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 8/30/2018

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebsco.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.