Stress Induced Seizures: Not Epilepsy

Psychogenic non epileptic seizures could be caused by stress in some people

April 15, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Some people diagnosed with epilepsy may have been misdiagnosed, say researchers. Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES), may display similar symptoms but it is not the result of erratic signals in the brain.

Despite not having detectable brain activity reminiscent of epilepsy, those who suffer from PNES experience similar symptoms - including convulsions and uncontrollable movements.

While the specific causes have yet to be determined, researchers believe that it may be due to an inability to deal with stress.

"Exercise and meditation are healthy ways to manage stress."

"These patients behave as if they have an organic brain disease, but they don't," says Jason Brandt, PhD, professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences, and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "And it turns out that their life stresses weren't all that high, but they're very sensitive to stress and they don't deal with it well."

The researchers asked 100 people to report on the frequency of stressful life events over the past five years - 40 had PNES, 20 had epilepsy, and 40 had neither.

Each group reported having approximately the same number of stressful events in their life but those suffering from PNES reported much higher levels of personal distress.

Additionally, those who suffer from PNES don’t respond to antiseizure medications that are often prescribed to those with epilepsy - and diagnoses of PNES seem to be on the rise.

The researchers have noted how often they see cases of misdiagnosis between PNES and epilepsy, often times patients will have been referred to an epilepsy treatment incorrectly.

There is good news for those with PNES, according to the researchers. Symptoms can often go away quickly, and these patients can be helped with cognitive behavioral therapy that will help them to develop more effective methods of stress management.

“The first step in reducing stress is to recognize when you're taking on too much. With work and family obligations, you might have really unrealistic expectations of all you can get done,” says Psychologist Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD. “In order to relieve stress, have a healthy way to redirect your energy.

Finding hobbies or activities you can get lost in, spending time with loved ones, and making time for quiet reflection are all ways that people reduce their stress.”

The study was published in the May, 2012, edition of the journal Seizure.