Rethinking Seizure Care Blog

The Wrong Diagnosis: The Problem with Psychogenic Seizures

Posted by RSC Diagnostics on Mar 28, 2019

Puzzle head brain concept as a human face profile made from crumpled white paper with a jigsaw piece cut out on a rustic old wood background as a mental health symbol.

A large number of people around the world suffer from a phenomenon called Psychogenic seizures. These types of seizures are not epileptic in nature, although they do have many of the same signs and symptoms. This is what makes them so difficult to properly diagnose. Typically, since diagnosis is difficult, those who suffers from Non-Epileptic Psychogenic seizures will actually be diagnosed with Epilepsy.

This happens more often than many realize. According to estimations, around 75% of those who have Psychogenic seizures were diagnosed with Epilepsy first. In fact, up to 30% of those people didn’t respond to drug treatments, which meant they were labeled with Drug-resistant Epilepsy. The past has shown us that it could take many years – even up to a decade or more – before the misdiagnosis is realized.

Over those years, those patients likely tried a number of anti-epileptic drugs, which may have caused side effects. Also, they might have tried other types of treatments that did not work. This is not only frustrating for the patients, but it has the potential to be dangerous. In 2011, these types of seizures were labeled as one of the biggest Neuropsychiatric problems in the world.

A Problem with Stress

Even though there isn't an easy way to help determine the cause of Psychogenic Seizures, since they don't show up on EEGs, they are still very real. Often, those who suffer from this condition are suffering from stress and have had traumatic experiences at some point in their past. These issues can cause the physical seizures to manifest.

Many times it is connected with conversion disorder, which used to be called Hysteria. This type of disorder happens when someone suffers from neurological symptoms that do not have any underlying medical cause. PNES can be a symptom of this type of disorder, but they're often associated with other types of conditions as well. These include issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and panic disorder. When the body becomes overwhelmed with stress, from previous trauma, it has seizures.

Professor of clinical neurology at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, Markus Reuber, has said that this is a learned reflex in the brain. He’s also said that the brain uses it as a method to avoid a distress. He said, “The seizure successfully moves the person from that moment to another moment when they may be exhausted and uncomfortable, but the trigger has gone away.”

The director of the Northeast Regional Epilepsy Group’s Psychogenic Non-epileptic Seizure program and Psychologist, Lorna Myers, tends to agree. She has said, “The seizure becomes a well-worn path of response to anything that’s distressing.”

The Seizures are Real

One of the misconceptions that those who do not suffer from seizures have is the belief that the victims are faking their seizures. In some cases, these victims don’t conform to all of the other traits of epilepsy, so people mistakenly believe that the patients are faking to avoid certain situations. That’s not the case though. Stress becomes so great that the body can’t handle it and then the seizures occur. Unfortunately, family, friends and even physicians don't always believe these seizures.

What Can Be Done?

The truth of the matter is that it is still very difficult to understand the difference between Psychogenic seizures and Epileptic seizures on the surface. There are a number of similarities, which means that the doctors will have to be even more cautious when they are diagnosing patients. If they have patients who are not responding to the treatments, such as anti-epileptic drugs, they may need to rethink the inital diagnosis.


Topics: Psychogenic Non-Eplieptic Seizures, Research Epilepsy

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all
New Call-to-action