Typically, seizures are the result of epilepsy, a physical problem in brain structure or in the neurons that operate in the brain. Sometimes, however, the cause of seizures is difficult to find and instead of epilepsy, a person may be diagnosed with pseudoseizures. Pseudoseizures, also called psychogenic seizures or nonepileptic seizures, occur in about 20 percent of patients who seek treatment for seizures, according to Epilepsy.com. Some individuals have both epileptic seizures and pseudoseizures.
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When a person has seizures that last an unusually long time or seem atypical when compared to epileptic seizures, pseudoseizures may be suspected. Someone having a pseudoseizure may twitch or convulse and could even lose consciousness. Pseudoseizure patients may also experience psychological symptoms, including feelings of deja vu or intense fear. A psychogenic seizure often lasts far longer than a typical epileptic seizure, up to 20 minutes in some cases.
Unlike epileptic seizures, pseudoseizures are not caused by an electrical misfiring in the brain. Instead, the cause is psychological. Psychogenic seizures may develop in people who have experienced severe trauma, such as childhood abuse. Pseudoseizures may occur at any age, but are more common in young adults and teens. Females are also more susceptible to nonepileptic seizures.
To diagnose a patient with pseudoseizures, doctors must differentiate between these types of seizures and epilepsy. This typically involves monitoring with an electroencephalogram, or EEG while simultaneously watching the patient via a video recording. Without the EEG to measure brain activity, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between pseudoseizures and epileptic seizures. According to Medlink Neurology, professional experts in epilepsy make an incorrect diagnosis 20 to 30 percent of the time when the determination is based on a video recording alone.
Treatment involves psychological counseling to remove the harmful associations that trigger the seizures and treatment for depression or anxiety in patients who need this kind of help. If the patient has been previously placed on anticonvulsant drugs, these should be stopped since they can make pseudoseizures worse, according to the University of Michigan. Proper treatment of a patient with pseudoseizures may involve the coordinated participation of a neurologist, psychiatrist and a general doctor. With treatment, pseudoseizures may be completely curable. According to the Stanford Epilepsy Center, more than 50 percent of treated patients eventually stop having pseudoseizures.
Many people who have pseudoseizures feel confused by their diagnosis, thinking they are somehow responsible for their condition. However, psychogenic seizures are not actually under the control of the person who has them, but are a product of the subconscious. Despite the fact that they are psychological in origin, they can still be dangerous for the patient. Therefore, obtaining proper treatment to ease pseudoseizures should be a priority for patients who have them.