Imaging :: Brain scans show brain activity in hysteria, conversion disorders

A new study, published in the journal Neurology, revealed that brain imaging shows unusual pattern of brain activity in cases of hysteria or conversion disorders.

Hysteria is a diagnostic label applied to a state of mind, one of unmanageable fear or emotional excesses. The fear is often centered on a body part, most often on an imagined problem with that body part (disease is a common complaint). People who are “hysterical” often lose self-control due to the overwhelming fear.

Conversion Disorder is a DSM-IV diagnosis which describes neurological symptoms such as weakness, sensory disturbance and attacks that look like epilepsy but which cannot be attributed to a known neurological disease. It is most common in the developing world and lower socio-economic groups where access to healthcare and neurological investigation is poor.

Using brain imaging called functional MRI (fMRI), researchers found that three women with conversion disorder showed an unusual pattern of brain activity related to their symptoms.

All of the women had sensory conversion disorder, which involves a loss of sensation in a limb. Each had numbness in one hand or foot that could not be traced to any physical problem.

Study was conducted by Omar Ghaffar, MD, MSc, W. Richard Staines, PhD and Anthony Feinstein, MD, MPhil, FRCP, From the Neuropsychiatry Division, Departments of Psychiatry (O.G., A.F.) and Neurology (W.R.S.), Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto; and Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Control, Department of Kinesiology (W.R.S.), University of Waterloo, Canada.

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