What is Conversion Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Conversion Disorder?

Conversion Disorder is a psychiatric condition that affects the sensory and motor functions of the body. It is also known by the name of Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder. The symptoms of Conversion Disorder make it tough for a person to function normally. However, the symptoms of Conversion Disorder are not similar to any of the known neurologic medical conditions. The symptoms of Conversion Disorder are involuntary and cannot be controlled just by the will of the patient.[1,2]

As of now, there is limited data on Conversion Disorder and research is being done to have a better understanding of this condition. An example of the physical symptom seen with Conversion Disorder can be blindness and paralysis that occurs in an individual without any known diagnosis or cause. Trauma and stress is believed to be the primary reasons for Conversion Disorder.[1,2]

What Causes Conversion Disorder?

Based on what little data that is available regarding Conversion Disorder, there are certain factors that are believed to be responsible for causing it. These include psychological, biological, and some social factors. It has been observed that the symptoms of Conversion Disorder almost always are preceded by a traumatic or stressful life event.[1]

It has also been observed that many patients with Conversion Disorder have a history of sexual and physical abuse in their childhood. It is also common to see people with Conversion Disorder battle other psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety or a personality disorder. They may also experience symptoms like generalized fatigue, malaise, feeling sick, weak, and have pain without any known diagnosis or cause.[1]

A neurologic disorder like a stroke or a physical injury quite often triggers the symptoms of Conversion Disorder. Experts also believe that people from the rural regions who do not have access to proper healthcare and education are more vulnerable to get Conversion Disorder than others.[1]

What are the Symptoms of Conversion Disorder?

The primary symptoms of Conversion Disorder include

  • Persistent weakness
  • Temporary paralysis of the extremities
  • Balance problems
  • Altered levels of consciousness
  • Seizures in some cases
  • Dysphagia
  • Tremors
  • Ambulation problems
  • Problems speaking
  • Problems with hearing
  • Vision disturbances[2]

The symptoms seen with Conversion Disorder are quite variable and differ from individual to individual and also depend on which type of neurologic problem the person has. The intensity of the symptoms again is variable. In some cases they may wax and wane and in others they may be continuous and severely impair the functioning of the person.[2]

How is Conversion Disorder Treated?

Conversion Disorder is a condition that requires immediate medical treatment. This is because there can be an underlying medical condition that may be causing the symptoms. Identifying the underlying cause is the most important aspect of treating Conversion Disorder. Once that is done it becomes much easier to cope up or control the symptoms.[2]

It is also quite important to find mechanisms to relieve stress and emotional trauma by healthful means as much as possible. Once the triggering mechanism is identified and controlled much of the symptoms of Conversion Disorder can be taken care of. Frontline treatment for Conversion Disorder includes treatment for mental disorder like anxiety and depression. This can be done with medications, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques like yoga and tai-chi.[2]

For physical symptoms like weakness and limited mobility, physical therapy focusing on strengthening the muscles is recommended. Aside from the treatments mentioned above, people with Conversion Disorder should maintain a healthy lifestyle and mix work and life balance to minimize stress. Spending time on hobbies like is one good way to keep stress at bay. People with Conversion Disorder also need plenty of support from family and friends.[2]

There may not be medical complications due to Conversion Disorder but the symptoms of Conversion Disorder can be very disabling at times and severely impact the life of the person. Even everyday activities become quite challenging for people with this condition. Symptoms like temporary paralysis or seizures significantly increase the likelihood of permanent disability. The symptoms of Conversion Disorder may cause disruptions not only in professional life of a person but also personal relationships. Overall the quality of life is reduced in a person with Conversion Disorder.[2]

Thus seeking a confirmed diagnosis and starting treatment is the key for a better quality of life. The symptoms seen with Conversion Disorder generally resolve with time and treatment. Any delay in diagnosis and start of treatment causes more problems and increases the likelihood of complications. However, with proper treatment, maintaining a good and healthy work and life balance to counter stress, and good social support it is quite possible to manage and even reduce the symptoms of Conversion Disorder.[2]

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