Epileptic and non-epileptic seizures ‘hard to tell apart for patients’

Posted Apr 16 2014 in Living with epilepsy

A new study has highlighted some of the difficulties that patients and caregivers are having in determining the difference between seizures that are related to epilepsy and those that are not.

Conducted at the Universidade de Sao Paulo, the study assessed 24 adult patients with comorbid epilepsy and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) in order to gauge whether they and their caregivers were able to distinguish between these two events at least one year after initial diagnosis.

Patients and a caregiver of their choice were interviewed and shown videos containing the patients’ epileptic and PNES events, with variables associated with correct identification of events evaluated by the scientists.

It was revealed that only six of the patients were able to correctly distinguish between the two events. They were able to tell the difference by noticing factors such as the absence of intellectual disability and a degree of preserved awareness during the PNES event.

Meanwhile, 12 caregivers were able to correctly tell the events apart by assessing criteria such as the presentation of only one epileptic seizure type in the patient and the communication of PNES diagnosis to the patient.

The researchers said: “These findings have implications for both clinical follow-up and research involving this population. Future research should further investigate methods that would allow patients and their caregivers to better distinguish between these two events.”

Epileptic and non-epileptic seizures can often look the same and result in similar symptoms, with the main differences coming from their causes. Whereas epileptic seizures are always caused by disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain, non-epileptic events can be triggered by a variety of factors.

The term PNES describes any seizures that have a psychological cause, often occurring as a result of a change in the mood or emotional state of the patient. They can include seizures induced by panic attacks and dissociative seizures that occur involuntarily.

Posted by Anne Brown

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