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Conversion Disorder in Adults

What is Conversion Disorder?

‘Functional Neurological Symptoms’ disorder or conversion disorder is a rare mental condition in which an subconscious emotional conflict is expressed by an alteration or loss of physical functioning.  Any physical or psychological  examination cannot explain these symptoms or signs. It is primarily a nerve disorder in the body where the brain cannot send or receive signals properly, thereby leaving the patient feeling unable to use their senses.

Earlier, conversion disorder was characterized as a psychological disorder, but with the current research and studies, conversion disorder has now been recognized as a disorder in itself. Care and treatment of the patients with conversion disorder include both the fields of neurology and psychiatry.

What are the Symptoms of Conversion Disorder?

Conversion disorder occurs suddenly and resembles problems associated with the nervous system. Some of the symptoms of conversion disorder are:

  • Blindness
  • Loss of speech or smell
  • Unable to control movements
  • Paralysis
  • Lack of balance
  • Urine retention
  • Deafness
  • Seizures
  • Loss of touch and pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Chronic pain
  • Tremors and spasms
  • Sleep associated problems
  • Memory related problems
  • Migraines and severe headaches

When to See Your Doctor?

It would be best if you met your doctor immediately when you observe such symptoms. You must enlist the support of your family and friends while visiting the doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist to assess you for the right treatment. It would be best if you are open to the questions asked by your doctor so that the condition may be diagnosed accurately.

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What are the Causes of Conversion Disorder?

While studies continue to understand this disorder, most researchers believe that conversion disorder is how the brain chooses to cope with emotional stress. Therefore, stress alongside mental disorders triggers conversion disorder in adults.

Women are more likely to suffer from conversion disorder than men. Conversion disorder is also more likely to occur in people who have a long history of emotional stress and cannot talk about their feelings and resolve issues.

Essentially conversion disorder can be attributed to both biological and non-biological factors such as:

  1. Learning Theory. This refers to the coping mechanism developed during childhood against dealing with impossible circumstances or illnesses.
  2. Biological Factors. Certain biological factors, such as impaired cerebral hemispheric communications and increased cortical arousal. These decrease the ability to detect  sensations in the body. Some of the impairments related to neuropsychology develop as a result of these factors.
  3. Psychoanalytic Factors. These factors refer to the symptoms that are symbolically associated with emotional or psychological conflict.

How to Diagnose Conversion Disorder in Adults?

While no particular diagnostic tests exist to confirm conversion disorder, your doctor would confirm his diagnosis by negating the possibility of other mental disorders and conditions. The American Psychiatric Association has designed standards to confirm the presence of conversion disorder. These are:

  • Movements that cannot be controlled
  • Unexplainable symptoms
  • Fully aware that the symptoms are not faked
  • No cause for any other mental health issues
  • Stress at work and social environments

Many tests would be conducted upon you to assess your conditions accurately. These tests are:

  1. Physical examination and understanding of the medical history of the patient
  2. Computed Tomography (CT) scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans provide detailed images of the brain to rule out signs of strokes, tumours, or any other diseases that could also cause such symptoms.
  3. Electroencephalogram (EEG) also is recommended for the patients to test the brain for any evidence of seizures.

How is Conversion Disorder Treated?

The first step in treating conversion disorder is identifying conversion disorder correctly. It is essential not to stress yourself, knowing that there is nothing physically wrong with you. Calming yourself helps ease the stress and symptoms. In addition to this, you could consult your doctor for therapies to make you feel better.

Some of the psychotherapy techniques that would be prescribed by your doctor are:

  • Physical therapy
  • Regular counseling
  • Hypnosis
  • Antipsychotic and antidepressants
  • Stress management techniques
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy for limbs and movement
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

How Long Does Conversion Disorder Last?

Symptoms of conversion disorder do not usually last very long. They fade away as quickly as they surface. This is particularly true if the symptoms resurface at the stimulus of a particular stress. Symptoms such as blindness and paralysis also do not last long. Other minor symptoms, such as tremors in the hands and legs, may last longer, depending on the patient’s health.

Conclusion

Most of the patients suffering from conversion disorder get better.

Conversion disorder is not permanent, and you can get better soon and get significantly better in a short period.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

● How does hypnosis help treat conversion disorder?

One of the treatments employed for conversion disorder is hypnosis. Hypnosis is used to alleviate and better the symptoms of conversion disorder in adults. It encourages the patient to focus on an image and distracts them from other thoughts. It is recommended to undergo hypnosis with a trained professional.

● Can antidepressants help cure conversion disorder?

Minimal research has been able to corroborate the positive effect of medications in treating conversion disorder. Nevertheless, antidepressants have been shown to succeed if you have depression, insomnia, or other mood disorders as a co-occurring psychological condition.

● Would you get addicted to drugs if you have a conversion disorder?

Currently, no evidence shows that conversion disorder leads to addiction, thereby substance abuse. If untreated and undiagnosed, the patient would be at an increased risk of ingesting harmful drugs.

● Is it possible to treat patients having conversion disorder and substance abuse?

Although few, some cases do exist wherein the patient suffers from substance abuse and conversion disorder. It is highly recommended for such individuals to seek immediate medical attention and treat both disorders simultaneously.

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