Conversion Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Conversion Disorder

What is conversion disorder?

A conversion disorder (also known as hysterical blindness) occurs when you experience physical symptoms of a problem without having any physical injury to explain them.

Take the example of losing your arm when you fall off your bike hard. However, your arm is not injured. None of your other parts are either.

The physical response of a paralyzed arm was your body’s reaction to mental and emotional stress from your fall. You can’t control your symptoms, even though they might seem bizarre.

Most experts place conversion disorder in a broader category of medical problems known as functional neurologic disorders.

Read: Hysteria Disorder

Difference between conversion disorder and somatic symptom disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies conversion disorder and somatic symptom disorder as the same group of disorders. There is a lot of overlap between these two conditions, and both can occur simultaneously according to experts.

At least one somatic symptom disrupts or interferes with your daily life when you suffer from somatic symptom disorder. This results in:

  • Think a lot about your symptoms
  • You feel anxious or worried about your symptom(s)
  • It takes you a lot of time and effort to deal with the symptom(s)

It is important to note that conversion disorder involves brain-related symptoms (or multiple symptoms). You cannot function normally under these disruptive symptoms. However, your symptoms do not appear to be caused by a neurological condition (brain-related condition).

What is the impact?

Childhood can be a time of conversion disorder for some people. Different ages are associated with different symptoms. Seizures tend to occur between the ages of 20 and 29, and other movement-related symptoms tend to occur between 30 and 39.

Women and people designated as female at birth (DFAB) are also much more likely to suffer from conversion disorder. Research suggests that women are twice as likely to suffer from conversion disorder as men.

What “inconsistent” means with conversion disorder

Conversion disorder is characterized by symptoms that do not match recognized medical conditions. If your symptoms do not match other illnesses, your healthcare provider must look for other causes. The fact that they aren’t convinced of your symptoms does not mean they do not believe in you. A conversion disorder must be diagnosed by finding the inconsistency.

It might not feel good to find an inconsistency, but here it is. You can tell if you have a brain-related problem when there are inconsistencies between your symptoms and known conditions.

Conversion disorder causes

Researchers are still trying to find out where conversion disorder comes from, but believe that it is related to emotional stress in your brain. There is almost always a trigger such as an upsetting situation or other mental disorder.

It is more common in women. It also happens more frequently to people with a history of emotional stress or who have trouble expressing themselves.

Sometimes, physical symptoms can help resolve internal conflicts. For example, if you’re fighting intending to harm someone, this disorder may paralyze you, making it nearly impossible for you to act on your desire.

Conversion disorder symptoms

Conversion disorder symptoms generally appear quickly and reflect nervous system issues (brain, spinal cord or other nerves). Symptoms of conversion disorder include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of balance
  • Body tremors
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Having trouble hearing
  • Blindness or vision problems
  • Loss of sensation
  • Having difficulty swallowing
  • Seizures or shaking episodes
  • Unresponsiveness

A person must have impaired motor function or a change in their senses to be diagnosed with conversion disorder. The symptoms must cause discomfort or disruption in a person’s job, relationships or other aspects of life, and they cannot be linked to any physical condition or other mental disorder. In the last decade, the disorder has gotten simpler to diagnose because of advancements in EEG technology and other cognitive techniques.

According to the DSM-5, Conversion disorder is diagnosed by symptom specifiers such as weakness or paralysis, aberrant movement, swallowing problems, speech abnormalities, attacks or seizures, anesthesia or sensory loss, or unique sensory symptoms.

It can occur itself as a chronic condition or as an acute event. A neurologist or a mental health expert is usually the one to diagnose conversion conditions. They may do a physical examination as well as a psychological assessment to evaluate whether you match the diagnostic criteria.

A person with conversion disorder is likely to have a co-occurring mental health problem. A mood disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, somatic disorders and personality disorders are examples of such conditions. People with conversion disorder who have non-epileptic seizures are more likely to have depression as a co-occurring illness.

Read: Sensory Processing Disorder

Hysterical blindness diagnosis

Conversion disorder cannot be diagnosed with a test. To begin, your doctor will rule out any other physical, mental or neurological reasons for your symptoms. They can inquire about any recent stressful occurrences in your life.

The American Psychiatric Association has proposed a list of criteria for diagnosing conversion disorder:

  • They have an impact on your movement or senses, and you have no control over them.
  • You aren’t deceiving them.
  • There is no other illness, medicine, or habit that can explain them.
  • They aren’t the result of another mental health issue.
  • They cause stress in both social and professional situations.

How to treat conversion disorder?

Knowing that you don’t have a significant medical illness may be enough to put an end to your symptoms. However, seeking medical assistance early on could help you feel better.

Conversion disorder symptoms may be triggered by an underlying medical issue, therefore anybody experiencing them should get medical help right once.

The first step in conversion disorder treatment is to figure out what’s causing the problem. Once a person understands what is causing the stress or emotional trauma, they may work on coping strategies and other remedies to alleviate the tension as much as feasible. Reducing the physical symptoms should come as a result of removing the triggers.

Treatments for conversion disorder may include:

  • Any underlying mental health issues, such as depression, must be treated.
  • Keeping a healthy work-life
  • Balance seeking additional support from friends, family and the community
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Psychotherapy
  • Relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation
  • Physical therapy
  • Keeping a healthy work-life balance

Read: Cognitive Disorder

How to help someone with conversion disorder

If a loved one is exhibiting conversion disorder symptoms, it’s critical to believe them rather than accuse them of faking them. Even though the cause of these symptoms is unknown, they are quite genuine. Be aware that when a neurologist or other expert tells your loved one that their symptoms aren’t connected to a specific neurological illness or other medical condition, they may suffer frustration and emotional torment.

Assure them that you are aware of their symptoms and that you are dedicated to assisting them in locating qualified experts who can assess and treat their illness.

Consult your health care provider if you suspect you have hysterical blindness. Make a list of your symptoms, any relevant personal history and any questions you have for your doctor. Ask for information whether they believe a referral to a neurologist is the best next step and if they have any other experts they recommend for a diagnosis.

It’s your right to know about the most recent research and treatment options for your illness, so don’t be afraid to ask your neurologists or other experts for educational materials that can help you make better decisions about your care. You may also inquire about psychiatrists and mental health experts who specialize in the treatment of conversion disorder and/or any of your co-occurring disorders.

Because hysterical blindness is a less well-known illness, it’s crucial to be patient when dealing with medical experts. It may take a few meetings and chats to locate the perfect team of individuals who are committed to assisting you in managing your symptoms. Don’t wait to start putting together the support you’ll need to treat conversion disorder and live your best life.

Read: Mild Cognitive Impairment


Hysterical blindness symptoms might persist anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. They could vanish as fast as they appeared. The majority of the time, they aren’t harmful. However, if you do not seek therapy, it might have a long-term impact on your quality of life.

Finding excellent methods to manage life’s pressures is the greatest approach to prevent conversion disorder. Exercising and relaxing activities such as yoga and meditation may be beneficial.

If you have a mental health problem, make sure you see your doctor on a regular basis and take your meds as prescribed.

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