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What causes pseudoseizures?

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Quick Answer

Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, sometimes called pseudoseizures, often occur due to psychological trauma, explains the Epilepsy Foundation. Many patients who have nonepileptic seizures have experienced a traumatic event, such as divorce, the loss of a loved one, or physical or sexual abuse.

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Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures are a manifestation of conversion disorder, a psychiatric condition in which patients experience health symptoms that occur due to emotional distress rather than a physical medical problem, states Pitts & Associates Mental Health Professionals. About 20 to 30 percent of people who visit epilepsy centers due to intractable seizures receive a diagnosis of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Intractable seizures are seizures that persist despite treatment, notes University of Rochester Medical Center.

Physicians can use EEG-video monitoring to confirm a diagnosis of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, states the Epilepsy Foundation. The test involves simultaneously monitoring a patient with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and a video camera to determine if the patient's brain activity shows signs of an epileptic seizure at the time when the patient exhibits seizure symptoms. If the test results suggest a diagnosis of nonepileptic seizures, the doctor can refer the patient to a psychiatrist for appropriate treatment. A psychotherapy technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is often useful in treating seizures that do not stem from a physical cause.

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