Conversion Disorder in an Appalachian Community

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Conversion disorder (CD) is believed to be the manifestation of physical and/or neurological symptoms for primary gain without an identifiable organic cause. Although it is believed to be more common in rural areas, the literature examining this claim is sparse. To our knowledge, no study has been published evaluating the prevalence of CD in a rural Appalachian population. The aim of this study was to characterize and determine the prevalence of CD per Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, criteria in a rural Appalachian psychiatric consultation service and to compare this population with control patients from the same service.


We performed a retrospective chart review of all patients diagnosed as having CD per Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, criteria on a psychiatric consultation service at a rural Appalachian academic medical center during a 13-month time period. For each case, two consecutive control patients were selected from the same service and time span.


There were 21 cases and 42 controls in this study, with a CD prevalence rate of 6.0% (N = 21/351). Sociodemographic, comorbidity, and recent symptomatology data were obtained. Compared with controls, cases were significantly younger and were more likely to have a history of sexual abuse, seizure disorder, antiepileptic use, neurologic referral, electroencephalogram, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, and history of CD. We found it interesting that fewer cases reported alcohol and drug use.


The observed prevalence of 6.0% does not support the historical theory that CD is more prevalent in rural or lower socioeconomic populations. Our data add to the characterization of the Appalachian CD population.

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