Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

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  ^

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  ^

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  ^

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  ^

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  ^

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  ^

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