What Does Hysterical Blindness Mean

doctor explaining diagnosis to her female patient

What is Hysterical Blindness?

Hysterical blindness, now more commonly referred to as conversion disorder is a neurological or general medical condition which causes the patients to lose their ability to see. However this loss of sight may be temporary or permanent depending on the circumstances involved. The term hysterical blindness isn’t regularly used now, the condition is now better known as a conversion disorder. Many experts link this disorder directly to the emotional turmoil of a person.



There are many factors which may cause this disorder or condition but the more common ones are psychological trauma or some type of anxiety. Further causes include some particular kinds of injuries or illnesses. Hysterical blindness or conversion disorders are more common among young adults and females. Emotional ups and downs like depression and anxiety also prove to play a part in the cause of this disorder.

A conversion disorder is known to occur when an uncontrollable emotion takes a toll on the sense of sight of a person, by causing damage to the sensory organs -eyes in this case. Exaggerated emotions cause the visual signals, which go from a person’s eyes to his brain, to get cut off temporarily. Hysterical blindness might also occur due to the emotional or psychological trauma faced by the patient in the case of an illness or injury.

Professionals in the medical field classify a conversion disorder as a condition which causes the patient to exhibit psychological and emotional stress in a physical way. In short, hysterical blindness is a disorder or condition which is caused due to the emotional or psychological trauma endured by the patient, the trauma renders the patient to lose their sense of sight temporarily. Conversion disorders are somewhat directly related to the mental health of a patient.

Symptoms of Conversion Disorder

Hysterical blindness almost always begins with some amount of emotional or psychological stress on a person’s brain. These psychological symptoms further lead to physical symptoms of the disorder. The physical symptoms of a conversion disorder affect the mobility and sense of sight, among other senses, of a person greatly.

The severity of the symptoms or disorder itself may vary from person to person but it is common for the symptoms to be mild in nature and comparatively short lived. Conversion disorders may usually occur to a person due to the stress endured by him following the death of a close relative or some similar situation where the patient has to deal with a significant amount of emotional and psychological load on his brain.

The most common symptoms of hysterical blindness are:

  • Deafness, paralysis (partial/total), temporary blindness.
  • Feeling weak in a limb or full body, even paralysis.
  • Speech impairment/Loss of speech.
  • Numbness, seizures, difficulty in swallowing, difficulty in walking.
  • Movement disorders, tremors, balance problems.
  • Fainting (loss of consciousness).
  • Urinary retention.
  • Impairment of pain or touch sensation.
  • Hysterical blindness, double vision.

Generally, symptoms do not last for a significant amount of time but symptoms can be frequently repetitive. Symptoms are usually very sudden and very brief episodes –however sometimes according to the nature and severity of the condition symptoms may last comparatively longer.

Causes of Hysterical Blindness

Some medical professionals suggest that the conversion disorder is linked to powerful emotional conflicts, the emotional trauma is converted into neurological or physical symptoms –hence the name “Conversion disorder”. Medical professionals in this field also point out abnormal processing of stress and emotions is a key cause for conversion disorder.

Studies show that hysterical blindness or conversion disorder is rather common in patients who have suffered from sexual abuse in their childhood, the abuse has a toll on the mental health of the patient which persists throughout his or her lifespan. Modern methods of research have shown that conversion disorders appear more commonly in females–the research for the underlying reasons behind this, and the causes of the conversion disorder is still underway.

Experts now believe that there is no fixed reason which causes a person to suffer from hysterical blindness rather, this is the result of people unintentionally using their bodies to express their emotional or traumatic issues. The exact causes behind conversion disorder or hysterical blindness are still not known, but it is generally linked to the psychological and emotional conflicts of a person. This condition is usually followed by a very stressful or traumatic experience undergone by a person.

Some people are more prone to getting effected, than others for example; people who have a history of mental health problems, people who suffer from certain illnesses, and individuals who suffer from identity or personality disorders. Many studies are still underway by researchers looking for a breakthrough in conversion disorders, the findings however have not been of enough significance to benefit the cause and help in the development of better treatment for the disorder. Hysterical blindness or conversion disorders are accepted as commonly occurring phenomenon which are generally more prevalent in females as compared to males. Young adults are known to be typically more prone to hysterical blindness.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a conversion disorder requires getting a proper idea of the emotional/psychological situation of a patient, taking the recent events of the patient’s life into consideration, all of which is followed by a thorough physical examination. When a patient is being diagnosed, typically, other more serious medical conditions, and their symptoms are excluded.

The patients suffer from hysterical blindness or loss of sight from their accounts but, studies show that no neurological damage really occurs. The pupils of the eyes work normally, reacting to light as they normally would. Before diagnosing a patient with a conversion disorder or hysterical blindness, all other medical conditions or illnesses are required to be excluded. This is possible through appropriate exams and investigations.

It is rather common for a person suffering from some other mental health problem, to suffer from conversion disorder as well. For neurologists to root out whether the person suffers from conversion disorder, they need to rely on certain aspects or symptoms of the disorder which are rare in other mental health related conditions but common in hysterical blindness; conversion disorder. Neurologists can also diagnose this condition by seeing for symptoms to be more severe on the non-dominant side of the patient’s body.

Another way to diagnose a conversion disorder is by excluding the feigning –given that the patient also suffers from some sort of personality disorder. This method of diagnosis works by thorough observation and investigation of the patient’s condition. This is a highly complex procedure which may only work with the cooperation of the patient, for example; if the patient confesses or is caught putting himself or herself out as some other false identity. This method of diagnosis isn’t very common among neurologists as they consider it to be more a piece of research than, a proper diagnostic technique.

Neurologists may also go about diagnosing a conversion disorder in a patient by virtue of a psychological mechanism, which is regarded as the most difficult method of conversion disorder diagnosis. Neurologists are required to understand and examine the mental or psychological status of a patient thoroughly. This method of diagnosis holdsthe psychological condition of a patient responsible for the disorder. Though, the results of this method of diagnosis are still widely debated upon.

Treatment

The causes of conversion disorders depend on a wide range of factors such as; mental health, head related injury, and emotional conflict. These disorders cannot be controlled –however, they can be treated properly with adequate diagnosis and appropriate care. Sometimes the symptoms caused due to these conditions tend to go away on their own, whereas other times they require proper treatment. Treatment options are decided on the basis of severity and the duration of persisting symptoms. There are many treatment options available for conversion disorders or hysterical blindness, some of which are listed below;

Visiting a psychologist/psychiatrist

Conversion disorders are generally caused by emotional and mental health related issues, so it is key to get any sort of anxiety, stress issues, or depression, treated properly. To treat the disorder itself it is very important to first get rid of any or all underlying conditions. Getting appropriate counseling for any psychological condition a patient has, is very much advised.



Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy has to do with the mobility of a person. Occupational therapy is required if a person suffers from partial or total paralysis among the other symptoms of conversion disorder. Similarly, physiotherapy is also advised for the patients. Patients who suffer from weakness of a limb or some amount of partial paralysis should go for physiotherapy to help them regain their mobility.

Hypnosis

Patients suffering from hysterical blindness usually believe that they have lost their sense of sight. Although, their eyesight is just fine. Conversion disorders are more psychological than physical. Going through hypnosis with a professional can help the patient identify and treat the issues which may be causing the condition to occur in the first place. Hypnosis treatments prove to be greatly helpful for the patients suffering from hysterical blindness or conversion disorder.

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