Conversion disorder is a condition in which you show psychological stress in physical ways. The condition was so named to describe a health problem that starts as a mental or emotional crisis — a scary or stressful incident of some kind — and converts to a physical problem.
In conversion disorder, your leg may become paralyzed after you fall from a horse, even though you weren't physically injured. Conversion disorder signs and symptoms appear with no underlying physical cause, and you can't control them.
Signs and symptoms of conversion disorder typically affect your movement or your senses, such as the ability to walk, swallow, see or hear. Conversion disorder symptoms can be severe, but for most people, they get better within a couple of weeks.
Conversion disorder symptoms usually appear suddenly after a stressful event. Common symptoms can include:
Other conversion disorder symptoms include:
When to see a doctor
Episodes of conversion disorder are nearly always triggered by a stressful event, an emotional conflict or another mental health disorder, such as depression.
The exact cause of conversion disorder is unknown, but the part of the brain that controls your muscles and senses may be involved. It may be the brain's way of coping with something that seems like a threat.
Conversion disorder risk factors include:
For most people, symptoms of conversion disorder get better with nothing more than reassurance that they don't have a serious health problem. However, symptoms may get worse over time, or may go away only to return within a year. Seeking treatment as soon as possible after symptoms appear may improve your long-term outlook.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. Generally, if a clear diagnosis can't be made by your family doctor, you'll be referred to a neurologist or psychiatrist. In some cases both a neurologist and a psychiatrist are needed to rule out an underlying neurological condition and to verify that it is indeed conversion disorder — and not another psychological condition.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, as well as what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To be diagnosed with conversion disorder, you must meet the symptom criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
For you to be diagnosed with conversion disorder:
There are no standard tests to check for conversion disorder. The tests your doctor uses will depend on what kind of signs and symptoms you have. They may include:
Diagnosis can be tricky because a doctor must rule out medical conditions with a physical cause. Conversion disorder can mimic a number of other health problems, including:
Treatments and drugs
For many people, symptoms of conversion disorder get better without treatment, especially after reassurance from the doctor that their symptoms aren't caused by a serious underlying problem.
You may benefit from treatment if you have conversion disorder signs and symptoms that linger or keep coming back, you have severe symptoms, or you have other mental or physical health conditions. Treatment will depend on your particular signs and symptoms and may include:
Conversion disorder is triggered by a reaction to some kind of stress. Stress-relieving activities such as meditation and yoga may help reduce reactions to the events that prompt symptoms of conversion disorder.
If you have other mental health conditions, make sure you're getting the right treatment. Treatment may include counseling and medications.
Last Updated: 2011-02-03
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