Conversion disorder

Conversion disorder, also called functional neurological symptom disorder, is a condition in which you show psychological stress in physical ways. The condition was so named to describe a health problem that starts as a mental or emotional crisis — a scary or stressful incident of some kind — and converts to a physical problem.

For example, in conversion disorder, your leg may become paralyzed after you fall from a horse, even though you weren't physically injured. Conversion disorder signs and symptoms appear with no underlying physical cause, and you can't control them.

Signs and symptoms of conversion disorder typically affect your movement or your senses, such as the ability to walk, swallow, see or hear. Conversion disorder symptoms can vary in severity and may come and go or be persistent. The outcome may be better in younger children than in teenagers and adults. According to some experts, most people get better with immediate and proper management.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Conversion disorder symptoms may appear suddenly after a stressful event or trauma, whether physical or psychological. Signs and symptoms that affect movement function may include:

  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Abnormal movement, such as tremors or difficulty walking
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty swallowing or "a lump in the throat"
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Episode of unresponsiveness

Signs and symptoms that affect the senses may include:

  • Numbness or loss of the touch sensation
  • Speech problems, such as inability to speak or slurred speech
  • Vision problems, such as double vision or blindness
  • Hearing problems or deafness

When to see a doctor

It's best to seek medical attention as soon as you notice signs and symptoms that might be caused by conversion disorder. If the underlying cause is something physical, quick diagnosis and treatment may be important. If the diagnosis is conversion disorder, then psychological help may improve the symptoms and prevent future episodes.

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