Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 22381730.
Encephale 2012 Feb;38(1):104-9
UNLABELLED: Conversion disorder refers to the occurrence of neurological-like symptoms or deficits that are neither intentionally produced nor simulated. While it cannot be explained by an organic disease, it is often related to psychological events.
CASE REPORT: We report the case of a 33-year-old patient with a fluctuating hysterical tetraplegia, which had started three years earlier. After the failure or the exhaustion of several biological (psychotropic medication, transcranial magnetic stimulation) and psychotherapeutic strategies, treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was conducted. A total of thirty-five ECT sessions were performed. Whereas the patient’s clinical state was initially characterized by a complete quadriplegia and an uncontrollable muscular hypertonia, we noted that the ECT sessions were associated with a slow, though remarkable, progress. At first, the sessions were followed by moments of altered consciousness during which the patient would be relaxed and could make simple movements. Secondarily, not only was our patient able to consciously move his four limbs, but he was also able to walk. However, those improvements remained partial and fluctuating, sometimes allowing the symptom to return temporarily secondary to frustrations or annoyances. Finally, our patient relapsed. Nevertheless, his clinical state presently remains better than that in which we first knew him.
DISCUSSION: The treatment of conversion disorders has been the subject of few studies and predominantly remains symptomatic. Its main goals are: to lessen secondary gains impact by adopting a neutral behaviour towards the symptom and by encouraging physical rehabilitation; to lower the symptom by allowing the patient to understand the normal functioning of the diseased organ, and; to help the patient to deal with stressful situations. There is no evidence that hypnosis is superior to medical and other psychotherapeutic approaches. Pharmacological treatments may be helpful in the case of anxiety, impulsivity or depression, albeit delivered with caution. According to some case reports, transcranial magnetic stimulation has also been associated with clinical remission. Although the use of ECT in motor conversion disorders constitutes an uncommon procedure, and even if no clinical trial has evaluated its impact on such a pathological condition, several case reports suggest that electroconvulsive therapy can be efficient in the treatment of motor conversion disorders. This efficacy may rely on several hypotheses. ECT could induce neural modifications, and participate in the suppression of an active inhibition, which is responsible for hysterical symptoms. Indeed, conversion cerebral disorder correlates can be explored with the help of functional neuro-imaging techniques, which could therefore also identify ECT neural effects. ECT adverse effects on memory could lead to a new relationship with the symptom, and modulate the psychological conflict which has participated in its emergence. Narcoanalysis, ECT sessions could have an impact on consciousness by means of some dissolution and reorganization phenomenon. It could therefore participate in the ending of an emotional block, the psychic integration of traumatic events and the recovery of a voluntary motor control. Finally, ECT could be efficient thanks to its antidepressant properties, especially its ability to stimulate triaminergic, and particularly dopaminergic transmission. This case report reminds us how difficult it can be to deal with severe conversion disorders, and to navigate between two reefs, which are abstention, and therapeutic escalation.