Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures

(Pseudoseizures)

How to Say It: Si-co-jenn-ick Non-epp-ill-epp-tic See-zurs

Definition

Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are seizure-like movements, feelings, or behaviors.

Causes

PNES is caused by mental health problems. This may include intense emotions, trauma, or stress. A person may also have other problems, such as depression. It is not caused by problems with electrical signals in the brain.

The Brain

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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • History of trauma, such as sexual trauma
  • A recent emotionally painful event, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one
  • Family history of epilepsy

Things that may raise the risk of this problem in children are:

  • Problems in school
  • Family conflict
  • Problem with others, such as bullying

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Staring off
  • Shaking
  • Muscles that move without control
  • Falling

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a doctor who treats the nervous system and the brain.

This information may be enough to suspect PNES. These tests may be done to rule out other types of seizures:

Treatment

Treatment is focused on the cause of PNES. Mental health problems may be treated with one or more of these methods:

  • Individual or group mental health therapy to learn how to cope with stressors, change thought patterns, and learn new behaviors
  • Medicine to treat mental health problems

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy
http://www.cureepilepsy.org
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Epilepsy Canada
http://www.epilepsy.ca

References:

LaFrance WC Jr, Reuber M, et al. Management of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. Epilepsia. 2013 Mar;54 Suppl 1:53-67.
Non-epileptic seizures and dissociative seizures. Epilepsy Society website. Available at: https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/non-epileptic-seizure. Accessed November 19, 2020.
Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/psychogenic-nonepileptic-seizures. Accessed November 19, 2020.
The truth about psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at:
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Accessed November 19, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 4/16/2021

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