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Motor Conversion Disorders Reviewed From a Neuropsychiatric Perspective

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65(6):783-790

Background: Conversion disorder is a somatoform disorder defined by the presence of pseudoneurologic symptoms relating to voluntary sensory or motor function. The correct diagnosis of conversion disorder presenting with motor symptoms is complicated by the lack of gold-standard diagnostic tests and the absence of a universally accepted set of positive diagnostic criteria. This article reviews the epidemiology, pathophysiology, presentation, differential diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of motor conversion, placing emphasis on diagnostic validity, reliability, and utility, while evaluating the empirical evidence supporting diagnostic and treatment strategies.

Data Sources and Study Selection: Literature searches were carried out in PubMed using the keywords conversion disorder, motor conversion, dystonia, psychogenic, hysteria, somatization, motion disorder, movement disorder, and pathophysiology. Articles and book chapters in the author's personal collection were also utilized.

Conclusions: Advances in neuropsychiatric research are leading to significant improvements in the diagnosis and understanding of motor conversion disorders. Positive, objective, and quantitative diagnostic criteria show significant promise for enhancing diagnostic accuracy. Current pathophysiologic research has begun to provide mechanistic explanations for conversion symptoms, thus blurring the distinction between psychogenic and organic motor disorders.