Author(s): Letonoff EJ, Williams TR, Sidhu KS
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Abstract STUDY DESIGN: Three cases of hysterical paralysis are reported and the literature is reviewed. OBJECTIVE: To report and discuss three cases of psychogenic paraplegia in order to increase the awareness and assist in the diagnosis and treatment of this uncommon disorder. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Hysterical paralysis, a form of conversion disorder, is an uncommon psychogenic, nonorganic loss of motor function precipitated by a traumatic event. The prevalence of conversion disorder in the general population reportedly is between 5 and 22 per 100,000 persons. The pursuit of a diagnosis for the hysterical paraplegic patient necessarily consumes valuable resources and time. If early recognition can be facilitated, these resources may be conserved. METHODS: The medical records for three healthy young women who presented to the authors' service reporting complete loss of lower extremity function were reviewed retrospectively along with the related laboratory, electrodiagnostic, and imaging studies. Two of the women were involved in motor vehicle accidents. One had a history of a previous hysterical seizure. Inconsistencies in physical examination and studies were noted. RESULTS: All three patients had normal laboratory, electrodiagnostic, and imaging studies. Discrepancies included complete loss of motor control and sensation in the lower extremities in the face of normal deep tendon reflexes as well as incontinence of bowel and bladder despite intact rectal tone. The patients spontaneously recovered and ambulated out of the hospital without assistance after their normal test results and physical examination inconsistencies were presented to them. CONCLUSIONS: Hysterical paraplegia is a type of conversion disorder. It is a diagnosis of exclusion that typically presents as mono-, hemi-, para-, or quadriplegia. The pursuit of a diagnosis for the hysterical paraplegic patient necessarily consumes valuable resources and time. The typical patient is a female from a low socioeconomic background with limited education. The DSM-IV-TR criteria must be met to fulfill the diagnosis of conversion disorder. Electrodiagnostic and imaging studies can aid in the diagnosis. Treatment revolves around explaining the normal diagnostic results to the patients and guiding them to appropriate psychiatric and physiotherapy. Rapid recovery should be expected, but can take up to 6 months.
This article was published in Spine (Phila Pa 1976)
and referenced in Journal of Depression and Anxiety