Conversion Disorder

A Woman Conversion Disorder

Defining Conversion Disorder

Conversion disorder is a psychiatric somatoform disorder that causes the patients to suffer from neurological conditions such as paralysis, seizures, and numbness without any underlying biological cause. It is believed that these neurobiological conditions arise in the brain’s response to stressful conditions that may have affected the person’s mental health in the past. It is both a somatoform and psychophysical disorder (psychiatric disorders that have physical symptoms).

While the exact nature of the relationship between the psychological, environmental, and neurological symptoms of conversion disorder is still unclear, it is a commonly accepted fact that this somatoform disorder happens because of a chemical imbalance in the serotonin secretion in the brain cells. Serotonin is the chemical responsible for controlling the urges and behavioral reactions to external stimuli. Serotonin imbalance is strongly linked to anxiety, stress, and other health concerns that can cause this somatoform disorder. Some other forms of it are: Somatization Disorder, Pain Disorder and Hypochondriasis etc.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Poor motor-sensory coordination
  • Partial paralysis in limbs
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble speaking properly
  • Partial problems with vision
  • Partial or complete deafness
  • Seizures
  • Numbness
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble walking
  • Abnormal urination

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of conversion disorder are unclear but most scientists believe that previous stressful events may lead to a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes this somatoform disorder.

When the brain comes in the “safety mode”, it secretes different hormones that can cause the person to feel “numb” or insensitive towards the threatening situation. However, in some extreme cases the effects of being faced with such traumatic events are not only restricted to cognitive impairment, but physical as well. People often face problems with their digestive and reproductive organs.

Historical data suggests that genetics may also cause this somatoform disorder, either through heredity or genetic mutations leading to malfunctioning of some neurotransmitters in the brain.

People suffering from conversion disorder are exposed to risks such as:

  • Distress
  • Substance abuse
  • Developing other, more severe disorders and mental illnesses
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Hindrance in regular functioning due to an obsession with the physical symptoms


Psychosomatic disorders are usually treated at multiple levels because of their many unknown and complex effects. Counseling (psychotherapy) is a good start when it comes to treating conversion disorders. This can be helpful in controlling anxiety and depression arising out of the condition.

Physical therapy can be coupled with psychotherapy while treating conversion disorders. Paralysis, especially in the arms and legs, is a major outcome of this somatoform disorder and ongoing physical therapy can help prevent such complications.

Hypnosis and transitional magnetic treatment are two other off-beat therapies that are widely used on patients suffering from this somatoform disorder. Hypnosis is usually done along with psychotherapy. Magnetic therapy is a new field and is based on the premise that the magnetic field can “elevate” and improve the regular functioning of the brain. Reports and scientific studies suggest that magnetic therapy is useful in increasing serotonin activity in the brain, enabling a healthier response to situations leading to anxiety.


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