Psychogenic diseases linked to abnormal brain activity

Individuals with psychogenic disease (ie physical illness stemming from emotional or mental stresses) have brains that function differently to people with organic diseases, according to new research from University College London (UCL) and the University of Cambridge.

Psychogenic diseases, formerly known as 'hysterical' illnesses, may look very similar to genetic diseases of the nervous system or to illnesses caused by damage to the nerves, brain or muscles. They can result in many severe symptoms, such as painful cramps or paralysis.

However, unlike organic diseases, psychogenic diseases do not have any apparent physical cause, making them difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat.

This study looked at people with either psychogenic or organic dystonia (a movement disorder in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures), as well as healthy people with no dystonia.

Both types of dystonia caused painful and disabling muscle contractions affecting the leg.

"Understanding these disorders, diagnosing them early and finding the right treatment are all clearly very important," says Dr Anette Schrag, UCL Institute of Neurology. "We are hopeful that these results might help doctors and patients understand the mechanism leading to this disorder, and guide better treatments.