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Conversion Disorder: What is This?

By HERWriter Guide
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EmpowHER has several members who are living with conversion disorder -- a frightening and mysterious neurological disorder that has no known cause, although there are certain psychological components to the roots of the disorder.

Conversion disorder occurs after a highly traumatic event -- a car accident, death, near death, rape or other incident that causes severe psychological damage as well as physical injuries. Conversion disorder manifests itself in various ways and there is no medical reason found as to why its symptoms occur.

Symptoms of conversion disorder include losing the ability to speak, see or even move (paralysis) for no apparent physical reason. In other words, there have been no physical injuries that could explain the symptoms but psychological reasons are believed to be the root cause.

What's important to note is that the symptoms are real. The sufferer is not making them up. They actually cannot speak, they cannot actually walk or move certain muscles. It's thought that psychological trauma has legitimately stopped the body from functioning.

According to EmpowHER's conversion disorder's section on risk factors, conversion disorder may affect people at any age. While some studies have suggested that conversion disorder occurs more frequently in women, it can affect both men and women. Conversion disorders occur more commonly in rural areas, among individuals with fewer years of education and of lower socioeconomic status.

Everyone who develops conversion disorder was exposed to a traumatic event. However, there are other factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the disorder, including:

■A previous history of personality or psychological disease
■Physical or sexual abuse, particularly in children
■Family members with either conversion disorder or chronic illness
■ Co-existing psychiatric conditions such as depression or anxiety
■Co-existing personality disorders, such as histrionic, passive-dependent, or passive-aggressive personality disorder

When dealing with conversion disorder, a person often exhibits one or more of the following:

Impaired coordination and balance
Paralysis of an arm or leg
Loss of sensation in a part of the body
Loss of a sense, such as blindness or deafness
Difficulty swallowing or a sensation of a lump in the throat
Sensory symptoms, such as:
Loss of sense of pain
Tingling or crawling sensations

It's thought that the kind of trauma a person experiences is linked to the physical symptoms. The National Center for Biotechnology Information explains through their Pub Med Health section that " ...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."

Treatment can vary from person to person. Psychological counseling is necessary for almost every sufferer and physical therapy/occupational and/or speech therapy may also be needed to restore the persons use of muscles, senses, body control and bodily functions. Recovery can happen within weeks or months and can happen at any time, for no known reason.


EmpowHER.com. Conversion Disorder. Causes and Risks. Web. Mon. Dec 05, 2011.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubMed Health. Conversion Disorder. Web. Mon, Dec 05, 2011 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001950/

For help and support, join EmpowHER's Conversion Disorder Group here: https://www.empowher.com/groups/Conversion-Disorder

Reviewed December 6, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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