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Conversion disorder

  • Definition

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


    Alternative Names

    Hysterical neurosis


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Conversion disorder symptoms may occur because of a psychological conflict.

    Symptoms usually begin suddenly after a stressful experience. People are more at risk for a conversion disorder if they also have a medical illness, dissociative disorder, or a personality disorder.

    It is important to understand that patients are not making up their symptoms (malingering). Some doctors falsely believe that conversion disorder is not a real condition, and may tell patients the problem is all in their head. However, these conditions are real. They cause 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 may experience the physical symptom of numbness in her arms.