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    Conversion disorder

    Hysterical neurosis

    Conversion disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has blindness, paralysis, or other nervous system (neurologic) symptoms that cannot be explained by medical evaluation.


    Conversion disorder symptoms may occur because of a psychological conflict.

    Symptoms usually begin suddenly after a stressful experience. People are at risk of conversion disorder if they also have a medical illness, orthe othermental health problem of dissociative disorder (escape from reality that is not on purpose)or a personality disorder (inability to manage feelings and behaviors that are expected in certain social situations).

    Persons who have conversion disorderare not making up their symptoms (malingering). Some doctors falsely believe thatthis disorder is not a real condition and may tell patients the problem is all in their head.But this conditionis real.It causes distress and cannot be turned on and off at will.

    The physical symptoms are thought to be an attempt to resolve the conflict the person feels inside. For example, a woman who believes it is not acceptable to have violent feelings may suddenly feel numbness in her arms after becoming so angry that she wanted to hit someone. Instead of allowing herself to have violent thoughts about hitting someone, she experiences the physical symptom of numbness in her arms.


    Symptoms of a conversion disorder include the loss of one or more bodily functions, such as:

    • Blindness
    • Inability to speak
    • Numbness
    • Paralysis

    Common signs of conversion disorder include:

    • A debilitating symptom that begins suddenly
    • History of a psychological problem that gets better after the symptom appears
    • Lack of concern that usually occurs with a severe symptom

    Exams and Tests

    Diagnostic testing does not find any physical cause for the symptoms.

    Thedoctor will do a physical exam andmay orderdiagnostic tests. These are to make sure there are no physical causes for the symptom.


    Talk therapy and stress management training may help reduce symptoms.

    The affected body part or physical function will need physical or occupational therapy until the symptoms go away. For example, a paralyzedarm must be exercised to keep the muscles strong.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Symptoms usually last for days to weeks and may suddenly go away. Usually the symptom itself is not life threatening, but complications can be debilitating.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Seeyour health care provider or mental health professionalif you or someone you know has symptoms of a conversion disorder.


    Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 39.


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                Review Date: 11/17/2012

                Reviewed By: Timothy Rogge, MD, Medical Director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

                The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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