Monday, November 7, 2011

Medical Mondays: Traumatized into Blindness


This week's Medical Mondays question comes from Margo Berendsen, who asks:

"Can you explain how a person might go blind after a severe trauma, rather than by disease?"

Excellent topic. What used to be called
hysterical blindness is now more correctly called conversion disorder, which is a subset of somatoform disorders, according to the DSM-IV.

In order to be considered a true case of conversion disorder, the person cannot be deliberately faking it and the symptoms cannot be explained by a known medical/neurologic illness. There is usually an associated trauma that is linked to the symptoms, sometimes many years prior to the onset of the symptom. This trauma could be a conflict, stressor, or other severe emotional trauma.

Besides blindness, other types of symptoms have been observed, such as:
  • inability to speak (aphonia)
  • paralysis
  • numbness
  • siezures
  • fainting
  • loss of hearing
  • movement problems (like getting stuck in a position, or having a tremor)
Often, these symptoms can be treated by identifiying the traumatic cause, with treatment of any associated anxiety or depression, with psychological and psychiatric therapy, as well as physical therapy.

Thanks Margo for the great question!

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Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

46 comments:

Melissa Bradley said...

This is great information, Lydia. Can this type of blindness be cured or is it permanent?

Bee said...

Sounds just like the kind of thing to take over swooning heroines in Gothic Romances ;)

Laura Pauling said...

Great question and answer! Sounds a bit like what might happen on a soap opera!

Em-Musing said...

VEry intersting info. I'm especially intrigued with the "getting stuck" in a position. Might be something I will work into one of my stories.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yikes, that would be a terrible thing to have happen to you. Thanks for sharing about it.

Bryan Russell said...

Great post. And, the funny thing is, I was watching a movie last night (Band of Brothers) in which a character developed temporary hysterical blindness.

It's a small word, after all...

(Come on, we can all sing along)

B.E. Sanderson said...

Great post, Lydia. I wonder if most cases of this are associated with battle. I mean, what other than battle could be so traumatic as to make a person's brain think they're blind.

Vicki Rocho said...

Another great Medical Monday installation! Thanks!

Wendy G. Ewurum said...

This is something I didn't know could happen, thanks

Old Kitty said...

It's so amazing what emotional trauma/depression can do to you!! Yikes!! Thanks Margo and Lydia! Take cre
x

salarsenッ said...

Hmmm...that's interesting. A lot of those symptoms sound like my mom's MS.

Suze said...

'What used to be called hysterical blindness is now more correctly called conversion disorder,'

Good call.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I didn't know this could happen. But there's no permanent damage, right?

Slamdunk said...

I have about cases with this involving hearing and paralysis, but not seeing. The mind never ceases to amaze me.

Thanks for the education Dr.

Justine Dell said...

I saw a show once were someone was trying to fake temporary blindness, but a simple test (your eyes apparently "react" to things if you can see and don't if you can't) proved they could see!

~JD

Anne Gallagher said...

Wow, I never knew you could go blind. Sounds like the stress could almost be PTSD. Fascinating.

Little Ms. Fun said...

That's crazy! You can go blind just from traumatic event? Depression can lead to a loss of vision? Insane!

Linda Gray said...

The power of the mind is so fascinating, fabulous and terrifying! I once actually experienced what I called psycho-somatic symptoms after a trauma--frozen shoulder. When, after many months, an emotional jolt restored it to normal, albeit achy function, I was alternately shocked, thrilled and embarrassed that my mind could have done that. You gotta wonder.

L.C. Frost said...

Love your medical Mondays, Lydia! Before I had decided on English as my major, I'd wanted to go into the medical field. Pathology is fascinating. Thanks for the info!

Lydia Kang said...

Melissa, with therapy the symptoms are usually improve or go away within weeks.

Sheri, the symptoms can be identical to MS. Which is why it's important that they get an appropriate neurological workup to make sure it's not multiple sclerosis.

B.E., trauma like war or battle could do this, but emotional trauma can do it too--losing a loved one, physical or emotional abuse...lots of things, unfortunately.

February Grace said...

Just an aside about blindness from my own personal experience as someone who went blind and then through six grueling surgeries over two years has regained use of some of that sight with very special eye wear (I'm still legally blind, only light and movement seen when I take them off) let me tell you this.

When portraying how it feels/what it's like to lose your sight, especially pretty suddenly, people writing for TV (I haven't really read it in books much but then I haven't read that many books the past few years LOL) get it wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are HUGE emotional repercussions to finding you can no longer say, make lunch without setting your sleeve on fire (yes, I was in deep denial at the time) or navigate a public restroom on your own without something bad coming of it. And if you have a character that does go blind from physical illness or injury if they have surgeries or treatment there would realistically be a limit to how much sight they would eventually regain (there are huge trade-offs in these situations as with any serious medical treatments.)

It's so much more than the thin, melodramatic portrayal it's usually given on TV so I'm begging you- if you're gonna write blindness, please talk to some people who are or have been blind. Or at least one. Your audience will thank you for it (and so will those of us who are visually impaired.)

That is all :~)

Oh, and "It's a small, small world!" (can't pass up the chance at a good Disney sing along.)

~bru

Carol Kilgore said...

I can barely imagine how emotionally traumatized a person would have to be for this to happen, yet I know it does. This actually gives me a great idea for my soon-to-be WIP. Thanks!

Meredith said...

Wow, how terrible! I'd never heard that you could go blind from trauma. That's fascinating (in an awful way). Thanks, Lydia!

Munk said...

Excellent post LK and equally awesome comment FG.

Lydia Kang said...

Bru! Thanks so much for stopping by and giving your input. You bring up such a great point and THANK YOU for reminding us that real-life experience can be a huge part of making a character/scene/situation more real. :)

lbdiamond said...

This question is right up my alley--thanks for the info, Lydia! You're spot on. ;)

Connie Keller said...

Thanks for sharing February Grace!

julie fedderson said...

Stop that! You'll go blind!! There was a movie called Hysterical Blindness a few years ago. I think Uma Thurman was in it and she had 80s hair. I find conversion disorders fascinating--the mind is a fascinating place.

Always such interesting stuff here, Lydia.

Krispy said...

Stuff like this is stranger than fiction. Thanks for sharing this one!

Carrie Butler said...

I've wondered this, myself. Thanks, Lydia! :)

Lynda R Young said...

wow, it's amazing what trauma can do. Just goes to show how linked our emotions are to our bodies.

Margo Berendsen said...

Thank you so much Lydia for posting my question and providing your expertise/insight. I also found February Grace's (Bru's) comemnt very insightful and will definitely follow up some more with her! I'm not posting for the month of Nov. (NaNoWriMo) but I linked to you via my sidebar and I'll certainly link you again on my next post!

Kelly Polark said...

Yes, this does sound like it could end up in a soap opera.
For some reason, "She Blinded Me with Science" is running through my head right now.

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting. I wouldn't have thought a person could go blind after trauma; but after thinking about it a bit, it does make sense.

Ciara said...

Stress can do some crazy things to our bodies. This sounds so difficult to diagnose.

Jill said...

Wow, I learn something new every day. Is this sort of like being catatonic?

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Wow, that's so interesting! Great topic!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This is so cool! I love this. :)

Karen Lange said...

I read a book a few years back that had a character who had this trauma. Of course, by the end, she could see, and it was happily ever after. :)

Southpaw said...

Interesting. I've seen that used in movies.

LTM said...

Wow. What a cool thing to know about. I can see that being used in so many different ways. Thanks, Margo! And thanks, Dr. K~ :o) <3

Michelle Teacress said...

I remember a friend of mine who went blind after a serious car accident, but her sight returned within the first week.

Does the kind of blindness your talking of today heal itself with time?

Peggy Eddleman said...

Wow! Great question, and fabulous answer!

Susan Fields said...

That is so interesting! Especially that it can happen years after the trauma - how bizarre.

Olga said...

This is really terrible! Our bodies can bring so many surprises, pleasant and unpleasant. We can only wonder what comes next.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Fascinating and sad that this could happen to someone. On a happier note, I love Medical Mondays.

 
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