Epilepsy Talk

Conversion Disorder and Epilepsy… | February 24, 2018

What is it?

Is it epilepsy or conversion disorder?

The term “conversion” comes from the idea that psychological distress is being converted into a physical symptom.

The cause is not known.

A long-standing theory has been that a person with conversion disorder must block out the source of the distress — be it a conflict or stress — because it is too unacceptable for the person to remain aware of it.

There is, however, little formal evidence to support this theory.

An estimated 5% to 10% of outpatients receiving treatment for epilepsy and about 20% to 40% of patients hospitalized for intractable epilepsy may be suffering from psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES).

Conversion disorders affect up to 400,000 people in the U.S.

Both neurologists and psychiatrists — emphasize that it is, indeed, a real and debilitating condition but that it is a psychological disorder, not epilepsy. It absolutely does not mean that you are “faking it.”

These symptoms might or might not show up as seizure activity when tested, but the source is different than with epilepsy, so it can’t be treated as such.

Different causes require different treatments, after all.

The good thing about these being non-epileptic seizures is that they don’t cause as much damage to the brain and nervous system as epileptic seizures can.

The bad thing is that we’re awake during them, feeling every bit of pain and/or the stares of people around us as we cause a scene.

It can be different for many people, but imagine if your mind is managing stress by keeping this shield up around you. Bad days can chip away at it, some more than others, but it’s rebuilt as you rest.

What if your mind never gets that rest, whether it’s from psychological trauma (even subconscious) that you’re unable to let go of, or something around you at all times?

That shield will wear thin until every little stressful thing that hits you, like a loud noise or swift change in emotion, can cause such a shock to your mind that it subconsciously short circuits.

It doesn’t know what to do with this overload of anxiety, so it converts it into something physical.

This can resemble the entire body shutting down, though you’re wide awake, or a full body charley horse of twists and spasms.

It could be gradual through the day as twitches or vocal noises. Your knees could wobble and drop right out from under you. You could feel like you’re on a ship at sea. You could go temporarily deaf or blind. The list goes on and on!

It’s up to your mind and how it chooses to deal with it. And you have no conscious control over this.

One thing people with conversion disorder are not: crazy.

While this is considered a mental disorder, we are still completely functional, psychologically.

This is a subconscious issue and we can’t help it.

Many sufferers may have other psychological problems in addition to this, but simply being diagnosed with conversion disorder does not mean you’ve lost any faculties of the mind.

You’re still normal in that sense.


Sometimes additional tests can clarify the diagnosis.

These tests may include an electroencephalogram, which measures electrical activity in the brain, or an electromyogram, which measures how well nerve impulses are being conducted through muscle tissue.

In some cases, particularly if not treated soon enough, conversion disorder symptoms can result in substantial disability, similar to that caused by physical medical conditions.

More severe symptoms, such as paralysis or blindness, also may not last a long time because it is harder to sustain symptoms that interfere significantly with daily activities.

A less severe symptom (such as tremor) or a symptom that is repeated and limited (such as seizure) can continue or come and go, depending on the person’s circumstances.

Expected Duration

The symptoms of conversion disorder usually do not last long.

Generally, the more quickly the symptoms start, the more rapidly they go away.

If the symptoms came about in response to a clearly defined stress, the symptoms are likely to last only a short time.

If symptoms do not improve relatively quickly, more vigorous rehabilitation may be required.

Physical or occupational therapy can be helpful.

A led by a Rhode Island Hospital researcher has found that a cognitive behavior therapy-informed psychotherapy significantly reduces the seizures in patients with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures.

The study led by W. Curt LaFrance Jr., M.D., M.P.H., director of neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurology at Rhode Island Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at Brown University is published in JAMA Psychiatry.


The outlook for conversion disorder varies. It depends on the nature of the stress and on the symptoms.

The person may either learn to deal with the conflict or retreat from the source of distress. In either case, the physical symptoms may stop. Functioning remains a higher priority than insight.

There is no single medication that is best for this disorder. But medication may be helpful for treating an underlying problem with anxiety or depression.


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  1. I would like to read & see on your E.T. topics, the latest about CURCUMIN / TURMERIC where it’s to stop or help prevent seizures. It is to help the AED’s work better, by helping the brain to make more of the DOPAMINE, & SEROTONIN in the brain, along with helping GABA & GLUTAMATE levels to be better & more normal as well. AED’s with the MSG’s & ASPARTAME’s in the drug do not do that alone, and I say it is better not to take the AED’s with the MSG’s & ASPARTAME’s in those drugs to start with. Turmeric would do the brain better, with out those toxins being in the brain to start, from the AED’s. I knew Lobelia was good for epilepsy, but never did I think a combo of lobelia & turmeric could be the batman & robin combo in herbs that both could end all seizures forever, if given the fair chances for all of us to try, in the same ways we have used for decades the AED’s which were all ”’false hope”’ from the beginning for most of us. NO MSG or ASPARTAME are in the herbs when they are taken, and there are no generic names for them. Study the names for some of the AED’s and their names do not come from another planet, but an herb, GABAPENTIN from GABA,,,as you can figure out more.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by C D — February 24, 2018 @ 6:50 PM

  2. I just saw a video on Netflix last night and Chronic Fatique Syndrome and they mentioned Conversion Theory related to that.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kristi Russo — February 25, 2018 @ 4:45 PM

  3. My adult son’s EEG shows convulsive disorder– this is true since infancy. Those fall-on-the-floor classic seizures are controlled. But he also is diagnosed with complex and partial complex seizures, by some neurologists. Recently, a neurologist, suggested that it’s not complex seizures he has during the day but rather ‘conversion disorder’ Son has been in PTSD therapy for a long time. Is there a precise way to determine if a person is having complex seizures or PNES/conversion disorder? Like most things today in the U.S. this throws a potential wrench into his receiving SSDI. When review comes around again & the neurologist puts down his latest ‘theory’ then what? BTW: we have no choice but to stick with this neurologist since son only has SSDI and state medicaid, better neurologist aren’t interested in his case unless we pony up $$$.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by watchingmymind — February 27, 2018 @ 1:35 PM

    • My only suggestion is to go beyond the EEG to a video EEG.

      I know of people who have had 5 EEGs, only to be properly diagnosed when they finally had Video EEG Monitoring.

      This, unfortunately, is also how they diagnose PNES. Sort of by the process of elimination. 😦


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 27, 2018 @ 2:30 PM

  4. I have been a grand mal epileptic since age 6 (47 years)…I have had a doctor try to claim “conversion disorder once. I guess I bite the crap out of my tongue for the fun of it. I find the the whole “conversion” disorder thing a cop-out for doctors that don’t know much…they need to go back to school and become real doctors!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Sherrie Edwards — September 6, 2018 @ 1:34 PM

    • I second that motion.

      Or else they’re into big denial.

      Did this doc ever do any testing on you?

      Or was he “guessing”?


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 6, 2018 @ 3:10 PM

  5. I spent 25 years with epilepsy temp lobe complex par and petit Mal seizures. The last 2 years meds stopped working. I got tested they found left temp lobe seizures. And my speech and other functions in the right side. I had left temp lobe brain surgery Nov 5th 1986 3 months after my blood levels where toxic dr started cutting back on meds. 6 months after surgery off all meds. Nov5th 2022 I celebrated 36 years no seizures 35 1/2 no meds. I am now 63 and retired. And t e Ying to help others. To deal with seizures and promote getting test if possible. I will never tell someone to have surgery that’s a family decision not FB. Good luck and God bless all dealing with seizures.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Mark Geist — January 27, 2023 @ 9:51 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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