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Causes of Non-Epileptic Seizures

Non-epileptic seizures, unlike epileptic seizures, are not the result of organic brain disease. Causes vary with each individual. For some people it may result from sexual or physical abuse, either recent or in the distant past, especially in their childhood. Other individuals may have experienced a major life event such as a motor vehicle accident, divorce, death of a loved one, workplace stress, and serious health problems.

It is well known that psychological stress can produce physical reactions in people with no physical illness. For example, almost everyone has blushed in embarrassment, or experienced "stage fright" when asked to speak in front of an audience. These are physical reactions caused by psychological stress. We also know that severe emotional stress can actually cause physical illness.

Trained mental health professional can help patients with non-epileptic seizures recall the event and work through their feelings about the trauma. The unconscious process that triggers the non-epileptic seizure may also underlie associated conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Co-Morbid mental health problems

Nearly 100% of patients with non-epileptic seizures have associated mental health issues. The disorders tend to be related to trauma, and include:

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is the most common psychiatric condition producing non-epileptic seizures, and the majority of patients have underlying depression. A panic attack can be misinterpreted as a partial seizure or aura. Without early identification and treatment it can become a way of life, leading patients to withdraw from activities, sometimes to the point of rarely leaving one's home, and chronic disability.

Somatoform disorders

Somatoform (" taking form in the body") disorders involve the unconscious production of physical symptoms due to psychological factors, and the most common type is conversion disorder. A conversion reaction involves the presence of symptoms that affect a person's ability to move or feel.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) has a subcategory of conversion disorder called conversion disorder with seizures. Somatoform disorders, including conversion disorder, are real conditions that arise in response to real stressors; patients are not faking them. This fact is often poorly understood by family members, and even many health care professionals.


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