Definition

Conversion disorder is when stress causes problems with the nervous system.

Causes

The exact cause is not clear. It often happens after a stressful or traumatic event. It is thought that the event causes mental tension that results in problems with the nervous system. An example of this is a person who loses their voice because they are afraid to speak.

Risk Factors

This problem often starts in children aged 10 to 15 years. It may also start in older adults with severe health problems.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having mental health problems, such as such as depression or anxiety
  • A recent or past stressful or traumatic event
  • Having poor coping skills
  • Being abused as a child
  • Having other family members with similar symptoms, such as epilepsy

Symptoms

Symptoms vary. A person may have 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 feelings
  • 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. A physical exam will be done.

These tests may also be done:

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

Treatment

This problem may go away on its own in some people.

Others may need therapy. One method is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps people learn to cope with stress.

Physical therapy may also be needed to build muscle strength and relearn daily tasks.

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

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. Accessed November 17, 2020.

Conversion disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/conversion-disorder. Accessed November 17, 2020.

Feinstein A. Conversion Disorder. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2018 Jun;24(3, BEHAVIORAL NEUROLOGY AND PSYCHIATRY):861-872.

Functional neurological disorder. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/fnd. Accessed November 17, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 11/17/2020