Non-epileptic seizures ‘may be linked to anxiety levels’

Posted Aug 4 2014 in Conditions related to epilepsy

A new study has indicated that analyses of patient anxiety levels could be used to diagnose psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES), a condition that is often mistaken for epilepsy.

The international study – which saw scientists from the universities of Lincoln, Nottingham and Sheffield collaborating with a team from Arizona State University – involved the creation of a new set of tests to determine whether there was a link between PNES incidents and how people interpret and respond to anxiety.

A series of questionnaires were used to determine if patients regularly avoided situations that might bring on anxiety, before subjects underwent a computer task that required rapid responses to true or false statements. The aim was to gather data on immediate, or implicit, beliefs about anxiety.

In total, 30 adults with PNES, 25 with epilepsy and 31 adults with no reported history of seizures were involved in the study. It was revealed that those with PNES reported significantly more somatic symptoms than others in the study, as well as a greater tendency to avoid situations that might make them anxious.

The group with PNES also scored significantly higher on a measure of how aware they were of their anxiety compared with the control group.

Overall, the tests were able to correctly predict whether a patient had epilepsy or PNESs in 83 per cent of cases, suggesting that techniques to determine levels of anxiety and avoidance behaviour could be useful in helping doctors make earlier, more accurate diagnoses.

Dr David Dawson, research clinical psychologist from the University of Lincoln, said: “We wanted to examine whether it was possible to make a clear link between seizure frequency and how people experience and manage anxiety. Our study is another step in understanding PNES, which could ultimately lead to better treatment and therefore patient outcomes in the future.”

PNES events are superficially similar to epileptic seizures, but tend to be a consequence of complex psychological processes manifesting in physical attacks, rather than abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

It is important to correctly distinguish between the two in order to ensure people with either condition receive appropriate treatments.

Posted by Bob Jones

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