Epileptic seizures

Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures

Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures are a manifestation or a form of conversion disorder. They take many forms, and particularly can mimic any sort of epileptic seizure; they are distinguished from epilepsy only in that they are not associated with abnormal, rhythmic discharges of cortical neurons. The condition is not benign; people have broken bones, crashed automobiles, bitten off parts of their tongue, and even died from injuries sustained during non-epileptic seizures.

An older term, pseudoseizures, is deprecated. While it is correct that a non-epileptic seizure may resemble an epileptic seizure, pseudo can also connote "false, fraudulent, or pretending to be something that it is not." Non-epileptic seizures are not false, fraudulent, or produced under any sort of pretense.


Confounding neurologists and other physicians, psychogenic non-epileptic seizures are frequently misdiagnosed as epilepsy; less frequently, the reverse is true. Misdiagnosis means that appropriate treatments are not received by the patient. In addition, the former misdiagnosis is dangerous because it can result in administration of unnecessary (and even potentially harmful) medication; the latter because a person with epilepsy is not correctly treated with medication that could help them. Statistics on the prevalence of these misdiagnoses are not available.

Certain features suggest the presence of PNES, including the presence of tears, which are uncommon in epileptic seizures, and a tendency for attacks to occur when other people are present, but not while sleeping or alone.

Inpatient hospitalization for long term video-EEG monitoring is a costly but effective way to distinguish them from epileptic seizures. They tend not to respond to anticonvulsant medications. Also, many persons with epilepsy experience non-epileptic seizures as well; finding evidence of one does not rule out the presence of the other.

Many physicians measure serum prolactin levels in patients who may have non-epileptic seizures, because serum levels of prolactin are often elevated just following an epileptic seizure, returning to normal within 15 minutes. Still, a negative prolactin does not rule out epileptic seizures (Ahmad & Beckett 2004). Also... individuals with non-epileptic seizures may have elevated prolactin levels for other reasons, including intercurrent epilepsy and medication side effects.


The patient with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures is sometimes found to give a history of childhood physical abuse or sexual abuse or other severe emotional trauma. (Betts, 1997.) Treatment based on insight-oriented techniques or exploring of abuse histories has not been found to be effective.

Instead, treatment with cognitive therapy or behavioral therapy is focused on concrete strategies to recognize the triggers of the seizures and use techniques to control them and eventually halt the onset.

See also



  • Ahmad S, Beckett MW. Value of serum prolactin in the management of syncope. Emerg Med J 2004;21:e3. Fulltext PMID 14988379.
  • Betts, T. "Chapter 265: Conversion Disorders." In Epilepsy, a Comprehensive Textbook, ed. Engel, J., and Pedley, T, Lippincott-Raven, Philadelphia, 1997.

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