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Conversion Disorder

When you experience a significant mental or emotional trauma and the pain of that experience converts into physical pain and discomfort, then you are living with conversion disorder, according to PubMed Health.

An example? Say you are in a car accident, but emerge unscathed. If your arm becomes paralyzed later – though you were completely physically unharmed in the accident – rendering you unable to drive, it can be a sign of conversion disorder. When you have a physical problem with no cause and you are unable to control it, then you may be diagnosed with conversion disorder.

*The Connection Between Stress and Physical Ailments

Psychological trauma is not just a mental or emotional problem. It can cause serious physical problems as well, problems that defy medical treatment because there is no medical cause.

Signs of Conversion Disorder

A physical ailment with no physical cause is the biggest sign of conversion disorder. Other symptoms of the disorder include:

  • Physical problems that happen after a stressful event
  • Problems walking, seeing, speaking or hearing
  • Paralysis of a limb
  • Seizures
  • Lack of balance
  • Inability to feel pain
  • Numbness
  • Hallucinations

If you experience these symptoms, it’s time to seek treatment.

*Risk Factors for Conversion Disorder

Your chances for developing conversion disorder increase if you:

  • Are female (more females than males are diagnosed with conversion disorder)
  • Recently were witness to or the victim of a traumatic event
  • Have a co-occurring mental health disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.)
  • Have a family member who is diagnosed with conversion disorder

Treatment for Conversion Disorder Is Necessary Even if Symptoms Fade on Their Own

Without treatment, the underlying stressful event that originally triggered the conversion disorder can continue to cause problems. Even if the unexplained physical ailment goes away on its own, it can reappear months or years later for no clear reason. If the disorder is caused by a chronic disorder, like depression, then the depression must be treated in order to stop the conversion disorder episodes from recurring. Essentially, conversion disorder is not a disorder unto itself but a symptom of another mental health issue – get treatment for that issue and the conversion disorder will no longer be a problem.

*Conversion Disorder May Be Misdiagnosed

Because physical ailments characterize conversion disorder, it’s not uncommon for conversion disorder to be misdiagnosed as a medical or physical problem. Some common misdiagnoses include:

  • Lupus
  • Stroke
  • Injury to the spinal cord
  • HIV
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Myasthenia gravis (a disorder characterized by a lack of muscle strength)
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (an immune disorder)

Helping Your Loved One Get the Care They Need to Heal From Conversion Disorder

A medical exam to rule out a medical cause for the physical problem, a few x-rays, and an EEG may be the initial part of the diagnostic process, but once your doctor realizes that there is no medical cause, the focus turns to the underlying psychological issue that may be causing the problem. Counseling, physical therapy, treatment for related disorders, hypnosis, and even transcranial magnetic stimulation (mild electrical stimulus of certain areas of the brain) can all help your loved one heal.