Conversion Disorder

What is conversion disorder?

Conversion disorder is a condition in which people experience symptoms which have no physical explanation. This may include symptoms such as weakness, movement disorders, sensory issues or blackouts. Conversion episodes are nearly always triggered by a stressful event, an emotional issue, or a mental health disorder (depression, for example). As conversion disorder is generally a self-limited condition, treatment is often not necessary, though in some cases, hospital admission might be considered.


Conversion disorder is relatively common. Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from this condition. Conversion disorder can affect people of any age, but tends to be more common between the ages of 20 and 50. Conversion disorder is a physical reaction to overwhelming stress or emotional distress. There are many common examples, such as racing heart when feeling nervous, however in conversion disorder, the symptoms tend to be more dramatic. It is more common in people going through difficult emotional events, and people who are suffering from anxiety or depression.


People with conversion disorder may suffer from dramatic symptoms such as blindness, double vision, weakness or paralysis, muscular spasms, seizures, loss of balance, numb skin, memory loss, swallowing difficulties, motor tics or even hallucinations (among many others). Although there may be no cause found to explain the symptoms, they are real to the person experiencing them. People with conversion disorder sometimes appear surprisingly untroubled by these symptoms.


Diagnosis is usually made by an experienced doctor or psychiatrist when no physical cause can be found for the symptoms and there is a cause for the stress. It can be difficult to diagnose conversion disorder, and often multiple tests are done to exclude other causes for the symptoms before the diagnosis is reached.


The treatment of conversion disorder involves education about the disorder and counseling to address the cause of the stress. Many people find that these help to relieve the symptoms. If the person with conversion disorder is also suffering from anxiety or depression, these can be treated at the same time as the conversion disorder and help to improve the symptoms.


Participating in stress-relieving activities (regular light exercise, enjoyable activities, etc.) and having a reliable source of emotional support during times of stress can be helpful in preventing the symptoms of conversion disorder.

Other names for conversion disorder

  • Conversion neurosis
  • Dissociative disorder
  • Hysteria