Non-Epileptic Seizures

What are non-epileptic seizures?

Non-epileptic seizures are also known as dissociative seizures, and in the past were sometimes called "pseudo-seizures" which is the name that is not used any longer as it is considered unhelpful.

Non-epileptic seizures (NES) are different from epilepsy because they have a different cause.

Regardless of the type, most of seizures happen suddenly and can affect our awareness, behaviour, thoughts and feelings. Around 15% of people with non-epileptic seizures also have epilepsy so may have both types of seizures.

Causes of seizures

Epileptic seizures are caused by a disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain and typically start in childhood.

Non-epileptic seizures may vary in their cause. Some may be due to a health conditions such as low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) or a temporary change to the heart function.

Others are associated with emotional and psychological reasons. For example, some panic attacks may look similar to epileptic seizures and be mistaken for such.

Dissociative seizures are typically connected with highly stressful, traumatic or shocking events in our life (sometimes those from many years ago), which the sufferer may or may not be able to recall. The intense physical symptoms experienced during such a seizure can be explained as a dissociated or a "split off" part of the memory, or "echo" of the traumatic event. Dissociation is a powerful protective mechanism that helps to shield us from emotional and physical pain, and is an unconscious strategy of our mind-body system (i.e. we are not aware of how it happens and cannot create dissociation on purpose). It is an effective protector but often can cause difficulties in producing unusual and upsetting physical and emotional symptoms, sometimes closely resembling epileptic seizures.

What help is available

Psychotherapy is recommended as a treatment for non-epileptic seizures that have psychogenic origin (such as dissociative seizures or panic attacks).

My experience of helping clients with non-epileptic seizures, as well as those suffering with Post Traumatic Stress and other dissociative issues, stems from my work in the Health Psychology Department in Derbyshire NHS as well as from my private practice.

If you are diagnosed with non-epileptic attack disorder (NEAD) or psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) you may feel upset, anxious and confused. I can offer safe, non-judgmental and gentle psychotherapeutic support to help you come to terms with the diagnosis, deal with the symptoms and address the underlying causes, when you are ready to do so.

Sources of information and support

Epilepsy Society

NEAD (None Epileptic Attack Disorder) Trust