Emergency department presentation of patients with conversion disorder

Acad Emerg Med. 1995 Feb;2(2):120-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1995.tb03174.x.


Objective: To describe the presenting symptoms and other features of ED patients diagnosed as having conversion disorder.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was carried out on the records of ED patients who had had final ED or in-hospital diagnoses of conversion disorder. Cases from 1982 to 1992 at a 566-bed rural tertiary care hospital with a residency program in emergency medicine were reviewed for patient age and gender, presenting signs and symptoms, ED diagnostic evaluation, disposition, and comorbidity.

Results: Of 42 patients who had conversion disorder diagnoses, 24 were women and 18 were men. Twenty-one (50%) of the patients were diagnosed in the ED, and of those patients, ten were released home from the ED. Patient age ranged from 5 to 70 years, with a mean age of 33 years for women and 34 years for men. Most clinical symptoms mimicked neurologic disorder (weakness, pain, seizure-like activity, loss of consciousness, etc). Thirty patients (71%) received laboratory studies in the ED and two others received laboratory studies on admission. Seventeen (40%) patients had computed tomography of the head and five (12%) patients had magnetic resonance imaging of the head. Twelve (29%) patients had previous histories of psychiatric disorders, four (10%) had histories of alcohol and drug abuse, two (5%) had prior conversion reactions, three (7%) had chronic illnesses, and four (10%) had been victims of previous head trauma.

Conclusion: Patients with conversion disorder in the ED usually present with neurologic symptoms and undergo multiple diagnostic tests. Comorbidity is common. Early psychiatric evaluation may assist in the diagnosis and evaluation of patients with suspected conversion disorder in the ED.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Conversion Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Conversion Disorder / epidemiology
  • Conversion Disorder / physiopathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies