Conversion Disorder

A person suffering from a conversion disorder constantly obsesses over their symptoms, desperately looking for a convincing explanation for them. Thoughts, emotions, and actions associated with somatic symptoms define different somatoform illnesses.

What is Conversion Disorder?

"Conversion disorder is a somatoform disorder in which a psychosocial need or conflict is converted into dramatic physical symptoms that affect voluntary motor or sensory function." Somatoform disorders are a group of psychological conditions in which a person has bodily symptoms that are not justified by a neurological or a medical diagnosis. The severity of symptoms can range from mild and occasional to persistent and severe and are beyond an individual's conscious control. These disorders are distinguished by an increased emphasis on somatic symptoms, including pain or exhaustion. Physical symptoms tend to make individuals with this type of disorder distressed and lower their daily functioning.

There are seven categories of somatoform diseases in which people exhibit a wide range of clinically significant symptoms that cannot be explained, namely:

Conversion disorder (commonly known as functional neurological symptom disorder) is a psychological ailment characterized by symptoms that appear to be neurological, often including paralysis, speech impairment, or seizures, but have no visible or known organic causes. These episodes were previously known as "hysterical blindness" or "hysterical paralysis." A psychological conflict or need is converted into significant physical symptoms that impair voluntary motor or sensory function in conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is frequently accompanied by dissociative symptoms such as depersonalization, de-realization, and dissociative amnesia, especially at the outset of symptoms or during episodes. It is common to find that individuals with conversion disorder have other mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression.

Symptoms of Conversion Disorder

Conversion disorder symptoms can include movement, sensation, speech, or swallowing problems. They include any neurological deficit imaginable, including:

  • Tremors or abnormal walking
  • Double vision or blindness
  • Deafness or hearing impairment
  • Coordination problems Episode of unresponsiveness
  • Loss of equilibrium
  • Sense of smell impairment (anosmia)
  • Loss of contact (anesthesia)
  • Vocal cord damage (aphonia)
  • Numbness or loss of tactile sensation
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Slurred speech or inability to communicate
  • Double vision for a short period or blindness.
  • A sensation of "a bulge" in one's throat or difficulty swallowing
  • Paralysis or weakness

Most conversion disorders appear between late childhood and early adulthood. They typically occur quickly, during intense stress, and last for a few weeks (Kukla et al., 2010). Conversion disorders are assumed to be uncommon, affecting no more than five people out of every 1,000, and women are diagnosed at least twice as frequently as males (APA, 2000).

Factors of Risk and Prognosis

Conversion disorder is a group of mental health disorders widely recognized as somatoform disorders, characterized by physical illness symptoms that do not have an organic explanation. The cause is unknown, but it has been said to be related to psychological factors. Conversion disorder may be triggered by a stressful event, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one. The symptoms may be temporary or permanent. Younger children may have a better prognosis than adolescents and adults.

  • Temperamental: Conversion disorder is frequently associated with maladaptive personality features.
  • Environmental: history of childhood abuse and negligence. Stressful life experiences are frequently but are not always present.
  • Genetic and physiological factors: A risk factor is the existence of a neurological condition that causes similar symptoms. For instance, people with epilepsy are more likely to experience non-epileptic seizures.
  • Modifiers of the course. Acceptance of the diagnosis and the symptoms' short duration are positive prognostic factors.


Individuals experiencing conversion disorder symptoms should seek effective and timely medical assistance because the symptoms could result from an underlying medical condition. It is important first to find the root cause of the problem. Once a person understands the root cause, they can work on coping skills and other alternatives to alleviate stress and emotional trauma to the greatest extent feasible. Reducing the triggers helps reduce the physical symptoms. Treatment options for conversion disorder include:

  • Medication: using it to treat underlying psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can also help with conversion disorder. Depending on the psychiatric co-morbidities, it may include antidepressants, anxiolytics, or others.
  • Physical therapy is an effective treatment approach.
  • Treatment with physiotherapy is necessary for managing people experiencing conversion disorder to combat their physical symptoms and avoid secondary issues such as muscle weakening and stiffness resulting from inactivity. Progressive exercises that begin with simple tasks and progress to more difficult ones have proven useful in people with neurological diseases and conversion disorders. The physical therapist aims to improve the patient's motor skills by gradually reducing the amount of verbal and tactile cueing or other help provided while the patient undertakes specific tasks.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy focuses on explaining the emotional roots of symptoms and is the cornerstone of conversion disorder treatment. All forms of psychotherapy include Individual or group therapy, behavioral therapy, biofeedback, and relaxation training. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has successfully treated pseudo seizures. Behavioral therapies focus on developing self-esteem, emotional expression, and the ability to converse comfortably with others.
  • Seeking professional help and support.


Conversion disorder is a condition in which mental or emotional traumas cause stress, manifesting as a physical disease. The symptoms and signs of conversion disorder are indeed difficult to distinguish from a profusion of other possible diagnoses. Thus the first step should be a thorough assessment of each patient's pathology. It is critical to acquire the patient's medical and psychiatric history as promptly and effectively as possible while being mindful of how and when to inquire about psychological symptoms. A comprehensive mental assessment is required to explain the genesis of symptoms and the existence of stressors and comorbid disorders. There is no single treatment procedure that can be universally advised.



Simply Easy Learning

Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


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