Conversion Disorder and PTSD


Three years ago I got out of my car and was about to walk up the steps of my house when I collapsed and couldn’t move. I was feeling perfectly well, not in anyway nauseous or sick I just couldn’t move my logs or get off the ground. My husband tried to help me arise but my legs would in no way support me. They were flaccid and useless. I had essentially lost the use of my legs.

We had no choice but to ring for an ambulance. They arrived and by the time they had my condition had not changed. There was no change. No pain, no feeling and no strength in my lower limbs precipitated by no event.

I spent three weeks in hospital undergoing all sorts of neurological tests and nothing could explain what the condition was. MRI’s and CAT scans showed everything as normal. Eventually the conclusion that was reached was that it was Conversion Disorder. It is thought that conversion disorder is a physical response to mental, physical or psychological trauma. It is sometimes referred to as functional neurologic disorder.

Symptoms include shaking, paralysis, or double vision. One example is feeling uncontrollably shaky after a traumatic event, such as witnessing a car crash, even if there is no physical reason to be shaking.

Triggers are typically:

  • stressful events
  • emotional or physical trauma
  • changes in brain function at the structural, cellular, or metabolic level

Conversion disorder may also occur when there is no clear trigger.

The exact cause, however, varies from person to person. While researchers have speculated that the cause is related to stressful events, the precise medical reason is still unknown.


Some of the symptoms of conversion disorder typically include:

  • weakness
  • paralysis of the arms or legs
  • loss of balance
  • seizures, sometimes with limited consciousness
  • episodes of unresponsiveness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • a feeling of a lump in the throat
  • shakes and tremors
  • difficulty walking
  • slurred speech or loss of speaking ability
  • difficulty hearing or loss of hearing
  • double vision, blurred vision, or episodes of blindness
  • numbness or loss of the touch sensation

Symptoms of conversion disorder vary between individuals and on the type of neuralgic disorder a person has.

Symptoms can be mild or severe, may stop and start or be continuous, and usually affect the body’s ability to function correctly.


Patient having a CT scan for conversion disorder

Other medical conditions may need to be ruled out, so a doctor may recommended a CT scan.

A doctor will diagnose conversion disorder using criteria defined by the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These criteria include:

  • loss of control of movement or sensory symptoms
  • symptoms occurring after a traumatic or stressful event
  • symptoms that do not appear to have an underlying medical or physical cause
  • symptoms that interrupt a person’s everyday activities

A doctor may also suggest some other tests to rule out other medical conditions. These tests include:

  • computed tomography (CT) scans
  • X-rays
  • electroencephalograms (EEG), which record brain activity and can help rule out neurological causes of seizures
  • blood pressure and reflex tests

Having established the diagnosis the physiotherapy program was formulated alongside my normal psychotherapy program of EMDR for my Complex PTSD an Dissociative Identity Disorder. It was believed that the point I was at in my therapy which was traumatic had caused the Conversion Disorder.  It took six months of intensive hydrotherapy and physiotherapy to regain the use of my legs. It was a very scary period in my life and extraordinary that the brain can have the power to act in such a way.

One comment

  1. Wow! Another effect I have never heard of. Not that I’m a sepcialist, I certainly am not, but how many people suffer with unknown conditions. Yes, our brains are certainly extraordinary like you said.

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