Are Conversion Disorders Real Illnesses?

Previously published in Factoidz

When a person has a conversion disorder, there will be some sort of physical manifestation of an illness or condition that is related to depression or anxiety. One of the most common conversion disorders is back pain. Sometimes, the back pain is caused by a legitimate injury or condition, and other times, the pain manifests from depression and possibly even anxiety. Most of us don’t get overly excited when we get depressed. Many of us, who get depressed now and then, may have a day or two of depression and work our way out of it; however, there are many people who suffer from chronic depression.

The most common symptoms of depression are:

Feelings of sadness



Loss of interest in the activities of daily living

Needing to feel isolated

Sleeping a lot

Lack of sexual desire

There are other symptoms a depressed person may have that aren’t necessarily the common symptoms. These symptoms are associated with conversion disorders. For instance, a person with perfectly normal eyes and optic connections can experience blindness. I sometimes can’t speak. Sometimes my tongue is paralyzed, and sometimes I have no words to draw from. This happens when I get anxious. It happens fairly regularly when I am under a lot of work stress.

With a conversion disorder, there is no actual illness or condition. Most likely, if you go to the doctor to get checked out, the doctor will send you for a battery of tests to rule out any type of physical and neurological condition. If all the tests come back negative, the doctor may suggest that your condition is possibly due to anxiety or depression, in the form of a conversion disorder. The doctor might suspect immediately that the chief complaint, whether it be aphasia, blindness, or a paralyzed limb, is psychogenic in nature, but to be sure, the patient must go through the testing. The testing can confirm that the infirmity is psychogenic when the clinical findings go against the laws of medicine or physiology.

Psychogenic illnesses, or conversion disorders, and sometimes called conversion reactions, often mimic real illnesses and conditions. This is why so many people suffer with unexplained back pain. Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes conversion disorders. I can’t explain why I lose my ability to think and talk, but it happens. It happens whether I am by myself or with someone, and it is something that I cannot control. People who have conversion disorders can’t turn it off and on like a faucet. The Mayo Clinic website states that conversion disorders are usually brought on by stress. However, how stress causes the manifestation of the symptoms is not known.

It can be very scary when you first get the manifestations of, what seems to be a real medical condition. Everyone thought I was having a stroke. Now, that I know what is going on, I don’t get alarmed, but I do still get very frustrated when I cannot move my mouth to speak, or I can’t find the words in my head to communicate. The good thing is with conversion disorders, they usually come and go. For instance, my aphasia only lasts a few minutes. A person with a conversion reaction that causes blindness may only have symptoms of blindness during times of stress, and the rest of the time he/she can see.

If you have physiological conditions that seem to come and go with stressful situations, you may have a conversion disorder. Don’t ignore your symptoms. Let your doctor do the appropriate examinations and tests to rule out any sign of disease or illness. Whether or not that you have a psychogenic illness, your doctor should be made aware and treat you accordingly.


Conversion disorders

Blindness and conversion disorder

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