Current Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment of Functional Neurological Disorders

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Abstract

Importance

Functional neurological disorders (FND) are common sources of disability in medicine. Patients have often been misdiagnosed, correctly diagnosed after lengthy delays, and/or subjected to poorly delivered diagnoses that prevent diagnostic understanding and lead to inappropriate treatments, iatrogenic harm, unnecessary and costly evaluations, and poor outcomes.

Observations

Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder/Conversion Disorder was adopted by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, replacing the term psychogenic with functional and removing the criterion of psychological stress as a prerequisite for FND. A diagnosis can now be made in an inclusionary manner by identifying neurological signs that are specific to FNDs without reliance on presence or absence of psychological stressors or suggestive historical clues. The new model highlights a wider range of past sensitizing events, such as physical trauma, medical illness, or physiological/psychophysiological events. In this model, strong ideas and expectations about these events correlate with abnormal predictions of sensory data and body-focused attention. Neurobiological abnormalities include hypoactivation of the supplementary motor area and relative disconnection with areas that select or inhibit movements and are associated with a sense of agency. Promising evidence has accumulated for the benefit of specific physical rehabilitation and psychological interventions alone or in combination, but clinical trial evidence remains limited.

Conclusions and Relevance

Functional neurological disorders are a neglected but potentially reversible source of disability. Further research is needed to determine the dose and duration of various interventions, the value of combination treatments and multidisciplinary therapy, and the therapeutic modality best suited for each patient.

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