What Is Conversion Disorder?
Conversion disorder is a condition in which you have physical symptoms of a health problem but no injury or illness to explain them.
For example, imagine taking a hard fall off your bike and then not being able to move your arm. But your arm isn’t injured. Neither is any other part of your body.
Your body converted the emotional and psychological stress of your fall into the physical response of a paralyzed arm. It might seem strange, but your symptoms are real, and you can’t control them.
Experts include conversion disorder in a wider category of medical conditions called functional neurologic disorders.
Conversion Disorder Causes
Researchers are still looking for a specific cause, but they think conversion disorder happens as a way for your brain to deal with emotional stress. It’s almost always triggered by upsetting situations and other mental disorders.
Women are more likely to have it than men. It also happens more often to people who have a history of emotional stress or who have a hard time talking about their feelings.
Physical symptoms can sometimes help with an internal conflict. For example, if you’re struggling with the desire to hurt someone, conversion disorder may cause you to become paralyzed, making it impossible to act on that desire.
Conversion Disorder Symptoms
Conversion disorder symptoms usually come on suddenly and look like problems with your nervous system (brain, spinal cord, or other nerves). They include:
- Movements that you can’t control
- Tunnel vision or blindness
- Loss of smell or speech
- Numbness or paralysis
Conversion Disorder Diagnosis
There’s no test to diagnose conversion disorder. Your doctor will start by ruling out other physical, mental, or neurological causes of your symptoms. They may ask you if you’ve had any recent stressful events.
The American Psychiatric Association has set standards for symptoms to be diagnosed as conversion disorder:
- They affect your movement or senses, and you can’t control them.
- You’re not faking them.
- They can’t be explained by any other condition, medication, or behavior.
- They aren’t caused by another mental health problem.
- They cause stress in social and work settings.
Conversion Disorder Treatment
Simply knowing that you don’t have a serious physical condition might be enough to stop the symptoms. But getting help from your doctor early on can make you feel better.
They’ll probably recommend psychotherapy treatments, including:
Conversion Disorder Outlook
Symptoms can last a few days to several weeks. They might go away as quickly as they came on. Most of the time, they’re not life-threatening. But they can have lasting effects on your quality of life if you don’t get treatment.
If you have a mental health condition, see your doctor regularly and take your medications as directed.