Hurst revisited: Are symptoms and signs of functional motor and sensory disorders “dependent on idea”?

Jon Stone, Jennifer Mutch, Denis Giannokous, Ingrid Hoeritzauer, Alan Carson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Symptoms and signs of functional (psychogenic) motor and sensory disorder are often said to be dependent on the patients' idea of what symptoms should be, rather than anatomy and physiology. This hypothesis has however rarely been tested.
Materials and methods:
Inspired by a brief experiment carried out in 1919 by neurologist Arthur Hurst we aimed to assess the views of healthy non-medical adults towards paralysis and numbness and their response to tests for functional disorders when asked to pretend to have motor and sensory symptoms.
When subjects were asked to pretend they had a paralysed arm 80% thought there would be sensory loss. Of these 60% thought it would have a circumferential (functional) distribution at the wrist, elbow or shoulder. Hoover's sign of functional weakness was only positive in 75% of patients pretending to have leg paralysis with 23% maintaining weakness of hip extension in the feigned weak leg, a rare finding in neurological practice. 20% of subjects managed to continue having their feigned tremor during the entrainment test. 52% of subjects thought there was asymmetry of a tuning fork across their forehead even when no prior instruction had been given.
The study confirmed Hurst's finding that non-medical people generally expect sensory loss to go along with paralysis, especially if the examiner suggests it. When present, it usually conforms to functional patterns of sensory loss. Clinical tests for functional and motor disorders appear to behave somewhat differently in patients asked to pretend to have symptoms suggesting that larger more detailed studies would be worthwhile.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Early online date24 Aug 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2017


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