Conversion disorder: symptoms, treatments and possible causes

Formerly known as hysteria, conversion disorder gained fame at the end of the 19th century, Being the majority of people diagnosed with women, who were thought to be repressed by the society around them.

On the other hand, Sigmund Freud himself proposed that this disorder has its origin a pent up feeling of anger or unresolved internal conflicts, Using hypnosis as the main cure for this disorder.

At present, it has been studied much more extensively, also referred to as dissociative disorder, a mental disorder in which the person subconsciously loses control when integrating emotions or experiences and manifesting discomfort through physical symptoms.

    What is conversion disorder?

    Conversion disorder refers to a whole host of symptoms that interfere with human behavior and apparently take the form of a neurological condition. However these symptoms do not correspond to any diagnosed physical alteration nor can they be justified by another disease.

    Currently, the main feature of this disorder is the appearance of symptoms or difficulties that interfere with the normal activity of the person, both motor and sensory, these difficulties are not voluntary and are associated with psychological factors or alterations.

    The term conversion is used to refer to the patient’s ability to inadvertently transform a psychological disorder into a physical disorder or difficulty. These abilities can range from the simple difficulty or inability to operate certain parts of the body to the use of the senses. For example, it has been documented that in some cases one comes to experience an apparent blindness.

    As mentioned above, people who suffer from this condition do not feign symptoms, but suffer from real distress, so it is not advisable to state in front of the patient that all his difficulties and illnesses are in his head.

      Symptoms of conversion disorder

      This type of complex disorder can have two types of symptoms, both motor and sensory:

      motor symptoms

      • Coordination difficulties or balance
      • Aphonia or impaired ability to make sounds
      • Urinary containment problems
      • Paralysis or weakening of any area of ​​the body, Coming to affect the whole body
      • Swallowing problems
      • Discoloration
      • Dystonia
      • psychogenic crises or seizures

      sensory symptoms

      • Visual deficit: ability or double vision
      • Hearing problems
      • Losses in the perception of touch

      Causes and risk factors

      Although the causes of conversion disorder have not been concisely established, it is theorized that the above symptoms are related to the onset of psychological conflict or a stressful event.

      Usually, the signs appear suddenly after the person has had a traumatic or stressful experience. It has been observed that patients suffering from this disorder generally assist with:

      • physical illnesses
      • dissociative disorders
      • Personality disorders

      However, conversion disorder can also occur in apparently healthy people, there are a number of risk factors that make these people easy targets for this disorder.

      • excessive stress
      • emotional trauma
      • Belonging to the female sex
      • Relatives suffering from conversion disorders
      • Experiences of physical and sexual abuse


      There are several steps to follow to make a proper diagnosis of conversion disorder. First of all, a distinction must be made as to whether the person is actually suffering from conversion disorder or whether they are faking the symptoms instead.

      While this can be a complicated task, people who tend to fake symptoms often seek to gain some benefit from pretending, this motivation can be economic, emotional, needing attention, etc.

      So it should rule out the possibility that it is the impact of a neurological diseaseSince this disease usually takes similar forms to a neurological disorder such as headache, epilepsy or sclerosis.

      It is therefore essential that clinical staff rule out any possibility of an underlying neurological disease one hundred percent, which is why the neurological specialist will need to perform a thorough examination of the patient.

      It is also necessary to rule out the possibility of another type of disorder, such as a factual disorder or Munchausen syndrome. In the first, the person fakes the symptoms with the intention of shirking their obligations or being the center of attention; and in the second of the parents or of a caregiver, creates fictitious symptoms or causes other real ones in the minor.

      Finally, in order to make the diagnosis as precise as possible, the patient must present the following diagnostic criteria present in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):

      • Presence of one or more difficulties interfering with motor or sensory functions suggesting the presence of a neurological or medical disorder.
      • existence of previous events, experiences or conflicts which may be associated with symptomatology.
      • All of the symptoms are not caused consciously or intentionally.
      • symptomatology it is not justified by the presence of another disorder or medical condition, Nor for substance use.
      • The symptoms cause a clinically significant effect, interfering with the different areas of the patient’s daily life and requiring medical attention.
      • With a set of symptoms it is not limited to pain or deficits in sexual function , Does not appear during a somatization disorder and is not due to the onset of another sexual disorder.

      Treatment and prognosis

      The key point in the treatment of conversion disorder is to remove or reduce the source of the stress, or otherwise work with traumatic events experienced by the patient, In order to reduce the level of tension in this area.

      On the other hand, it is necessary to eliminate any secondary gains or benefits that the patient may derive from this behavior, even if he is not fully aware of it.

      usually symptomatology can automatically reset, For days, even weeks, and to come pour automatically. However, there are a number of resources and interventions that can benefit the patient. These are:

      • Explanation of the disease
      • Psychotherapy
      • occupational therapy

      • Treatment of other disorders present such as depression or anxiety

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