Due to the diversity of symptoms that may present with a Functional Neurological Disorder, and the varied potential causes/triggers that can differ from person to person, treatment plans must be tailored to suit the person’s individual need, with all health aspects being taken into consideration. There is not a ‘one fix will fix all’ option, which can cause frustration for both the person with the diagnosis and the medical professionals, so it may take time to develop the correct treatment plan.
Historically the only form of treatment offered to those diagnosed with functional neurological symptoms was psychotherapy. Due to lack of awareness among health professionals, this is still often the only treatment offered, but more options are now becoming available. Psychotherapy may be useful for dealing with potential triggers, and may help with coping with symptoms and lifestyle changes. However, it can potentially be detrimental to a person’s recovery if the need for collaborative care is not considered.
Whilst there is no known cure as it stands today, many are able to recover from symptoms or get to a stage where symptoms become manageable. The following treatment options should be taken into consideration for all those diagnosed with a Functional Neurological Disorder:
Evidence is growing that physiotherapy can be the most effective treatment option for those who have movement or motor symptoms, including weakness and paralysis. The level of effectiveness depends upon if the treatment is delivered by a Therapist who has an understanding of functional neurological symptoms, and if the patient is fully engaged in the programme. If your Physiotherapist does have limited/no knowledge of functional symptoms, we suggest you share this publication with them. It has been written by some of the leading specialists in this field: ‘Physiotherapy for functional motor disorders: a consensus recommendation‘. This is a PDF file and so you will need a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat Reader to open it.
Antidepressants and pain medication may be prescribed to people diagnosed with functional neurological symptoms. Whilst they are offered to help relieve symptoms, it is imperative that the administration is managed long term by a medical professional. Also consider:
- Taking antidepressants does not automatically mean your doctor thinks you are emotionally distressed as this type of medication can be used for multiple different symptoms.
- Medication can take a few days/weeks to have an effect and most are initially administered by raising the dose slowly over a period of a few days.
- Be aware of potential side effects, especially when you first start taking a medication, and speak to a doctor if you have any concerns/questions.
- If you are on medication but still having symptoms, it may not be working or your dosage may need increasing. If the medication is not working for you, discuss with your doctor what other options are available.
- NEVER stop taking any medication without consulting your doctor first as most require you to reduce the dosage over time to avoid withdrawal side effects.
- Whilst medication can be effective, remember that medication can become addictive and certain medications are only meant to be used for a short period of time.
An Occupational Therapist’s role is to assess your practical needs (short or long term) with everyday living whilst symptomatic. This could be aids needed for physical difficulties, help with maintaining the home and undertaking tasks, help with physical activity, and support getting back to work. For further details about OT services offered by the NHS please see here.
Note: if you have been hospitalised for a period of time, an Occupational Therapist must assess your practical needs for returning home, and discuss and address them with you before you are discharged.
Emotional health is just as important as physical health. Problems can be due to primary or secondary circumstances. Psychotherapy can help with dealing with past emotional trauma such as PTSD, existing emotional health difficulties such as anxiety and stress, and provide support and guidance with how to cope emotionally with life changes due to poor health. This can be delivered in several forms e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Talking Therapy. It is advisable that you ask for a Psychotherapist/Psychologist who has an understanding of functional neurological symptoms.
When a person is diagnosed with a medical condition, it not only affects the person diagnosed but also those close to them. A partner or family member may become a carer and other family members may provide physical and emotional support. It is important that they are part of the collaborative care team. They can help to advocate and support the person diagnosed e.g. at doctor’s appointments and help with medication management. It is important they receive support and guidance for themselves also. You can read further information on our Carer’s page.
We advocate that ALL people diagnosed with a Functional Neurological Disorder should have their health managed by a consistent primary health provider whilst symptomatic. This health provider should work with other health professionals to follow a collaborative care programme with regular health reviews for the person, and adhere to the NICE guidelines – Patient Experience in Adult NHS Services.
Some people have found symptom relief from exploring alternative treatments. Here is a selection you may like to consider, some of which may be available through the NHS. You can search the internet for websites which explain the treatment, how it may help, and what services are available in your area. It is recommended you consult a doctor if you are considering any alternative treatments.
- Hydrotherapy is a therapeutic treatment that involves exercise and movement in water.
- Acupuncture is a therapeutic treatment that involves inserting thin needles in to the skin to stimulate nerves and muscle tissue.
- Acupressure involves applying physical pressure on the body by the hand, elbow, and other appropriate devices.
- EFT (emotional freedom techniques), also called tapping, is a form of psychological acupuncture. It involves simple tapping techniques using the fingertips on different parts of the head and body.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing oxygen through a mask in a pressurised chamber.
- Chiropractic involves using the hands to manipulate the spine, other joints, and soft tissues.
- Herbal medicines are a type of dietary supplement using herbs and spices as an alternative/additional treatment option.
- Yoga is a holistic form of exercise involving posture and breathing.
- Hypnotherapy is a complimentary therapy which uses verbal communication whilst a person is hypnotised, as in a state of deep relaxation. The power of positive suggestion can then be used to bring about a subconscious change to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Self care and health management
Whilst a medical professional has a duty of care to you, it is also useful to take ownership of your own health management.
Self-advocacy and empowerment of your own health may include:
- When diagnosed with a potentially chronic condition, our health and wellbeing can become a vicious cycle, as illustrated above, and although it can be difficult it would be worthwhile considering options that may help to break this cycle. You may also want to visit our “Wellbeing” section.
- If you develop a new symptom and are concerned, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Don’t just assume it must be related to FND and make sure your doctor investigates your new symptom independently.
- Ensure you fully understand what a doctor is saying to you and why. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
- Know your rights to accessing medical care.
- Keep all your health records together and be prepared for appointments. ‘I wish I had asked …’ can be eliminated if you make some notes to share with your doctor at your appointment. Most GP’s will allow up to 10 minute appointments, so if you think you need longer consider asking for a double appointment.
- If you don’t feel strong enough to discuss your health with medical professionals, or are suffering from cognitive issues, ask someone to advocate for you on your behalf.
Finally, bear in mind your body is like a car. To make it go it needs petrol and the right type of oil, and it needs to be used regularly so the parts don’t seize up or stop working. Here are some document downloads that may help get you started in considering your self-care, exercise and diet:
All are PDF files and so you will need a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat Reader to open them.
Share with your Doctor
The FN Forum is a website that has been set up by leading specialists, to bring together medical professionals who work with people who are diagnosed with functional neurological symptoms. It is a multidisciplinary group consisting of Neurology, Physiotherapy, Neuropsychiatry, Occupational Therapy and Neuropsychology.
For further information and details on how to sign up, which can be shared with your medical care team, please visit the FN Forum.