Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are seizure-like movements, sensations, or behaviors. Though PNES may appear similar to epileptic seizures, they have very different causes.
Most seizures are caused by problems with electrical signals in the brain or brain injury.
However, PNES are not caused by these types of problems. The symptoms are actually caused by psychological factors such as intense emotions, traumatic experiences, or stress. Other psychological conditions such as depression are also present.
Factors that may increase the risk of PNES include:
PNES symptoms may include:
PNES may differ from epilepsy in that PNES symptoms do not usually include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical and mental health history. The doctor will ask questions about the seizure such as what happens during them, how long they last, and how you feel after. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor that specializes in the nervous system and the brain.
Blood tests and brain scans may be done to look for potential causes of seizures, if the cause is not clear.
An EEG is a test that shows the electrical activity in the brain. This test can help identify electrical problems in the brain associated with seizures. An EEG is most effective when done while video monitoring. If a seizure is seen on video but there is no change in EEG, PNES is diagnosed.
Managing underlying psychological issues will stop seizures.
Medications will not help in managing pseudoseizures. However, you may be given medications to treat underlying conditions or mental health conditions.
Mental health therapy is designed to help cope with stressors, change thought patterns, and learn new behaviors. You will be referred to a mental health therapist for evaluation and treatment. Types of therapy may include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and group therapy.
Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
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The truth about psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at: http://www.epilepsy.com/article/2014/3/truth-about-psychogenic-nonepileptic-seizures. Accessed April 11, 2016.
Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.