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Conversion Disorder

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Conversion Disorder?

This condition is also called Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder. It involves having physical symptoms that appear after stress or a traumatic event has taken place.

The symptoms of this disorder include:

  • one or more symptoms involving motor or sensory functions. These may include problems such as weakness or paralysis; tremors or seizures; loss of balance or walking oddly; having trouble swallowing; and being unresponsive, among many others.
  • the symptoms being displayed could not be caused by a medical condition that the person has
  • the symptoms or problems also can't be explained by any other medical condition
  • the symptoms are causing significant distress or impairment in the person's social, occupational, or other areas of daily functioning.

The condition can be acute (symptoms present for less than 6 months) or persistent (symptoms for more than 6 months).

How common is Conversion Disorder?

According to the DSM-5, persistent conversion disorder is found in 2 to 5 people out of 100,000 per year. The disorder can occur at any age in life, including children.

What are the risk factors for Conversion Disorder?

Risk factors can include the person's general temperament or personality, as well as history of child abuse or neglect. Having stressful life events happen or having a brain disease that causes similar symptoms can also be a risk. For example, a person with epilepsy may then have non-epilepsy related seizures after a traumatic event has happened.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Conversion Disorder?

Anxiety disorders, especially panic disorder, and depression are both common. Those with this condition also seem to be more likely to have a personality disorder. Substance abuse or alcohol misuse disorders are not common with this condition.

How is Conversion Disorder treated?

Symptoms of conversion disorder often go away on their own. If they don't, physical therapy can be used for symptoms such as having trouble walking or muscle weakness.

Psychotherapy can be very helpful in order to look at and change the thoughts that may be affecting the person. It can also reduce the levels of worry and anxiety, as well as any depression that the person may be having.

Stress management techniques can be used to help deal with and treat the stress that may have caused the symptoms.

Medication can be used to treat symptoms such as anxiety and depression. It does not cure the overall condition though.