Conversion disorder is a psychiatric condition in which people express emotional distress through physical signs and symptoms. These physical manifestations appear involuntarily, and a medical examination does not show any clearly defined physical cause for the dysfunction.
For example, someone may inexplicably lose his voice in a situation in which he's afraid to speak. An equestrian may develop paralysis in her leg after a terrifying — but physically harmless — throw from a horse.
Common signs and symptoms of conversion disorder include paralysis in an arm or leg, difficulty swallowing, sudden blindness or deafness, and nonepileptic seizures. Symptoms of conversion disorder usually appear suddenly and may follow a stressful experience.
Conversion disorder is rare. It afflicts women more often than men and is more common among people between 10 and 35 years of age.
Many people with conversion disorder show short-term resolution of symptoms, but others may develop new or recurrent symptoms later. Psychiatric treatment and other therapies can help alleviate symptoms and prevent recurrences.