What is a pseudoseizure?

A pseudoseizure looks like a seizure, but has different brain activity than a seizure that is experienced by someone with epilepsy. A pseudoseizure is likely to have an underlying psychological cause, such as sexual abuse. If someone suffering from a non-epileptic seizure takes medication that is designed to treat epilepsy, that person risks harming their body. For instance, a pregnant woman who doesn't have epilepsy, but who is taking medication for it, may be at a higher risk of delivering a baby with birth defects.

Jerome Engel, MD
Many neurological, general medical and psychiatric diseases and conditions cause intermittent symptoms that can be mistaken for epileptic seizures. Common examples are fainting spells, panic attacks, migraine headaches, small strokes (transient ischemic attacks – TIAs), jitteriness in neonates and colic in babies. Misdiagnosis as epilepsy can lead to unnecessary treatment with antiseizure drugs while the true condition goes untreated. Also, an unwarranted potentially stigmatizing label of epilepsy alone can cause disability. A particularly common and difficult-to-diagnose-and-treat type of pseudoseizures is psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES). These are not caused by physical abnormalities in the brain, but rather by psychological conditions usually in reaction to stress. These are involuntary events, as disabling as epileptic seizures, but the treatment is psychological not medical. Referral to an epilepsy center for in-patient video-EEG monitoring to examine the electrical and behavioral features of the seizures is often necessary to confirm the diagnosis of this important disorder.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.