Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizure (PNES)


Seizure Due to a Panic Attack

A panic attack seizure, or “psychogenic non-epileptic seizure,” is a very real type of seizure disorder induced by stress, trauma, or anxiety. This type of seizure mimics an epileptic seizure in appearance, but usually lacks the brain wave abnormalities associated with a true epileptic seizure. Falling, shaking, staring, and convulsions are frequently noted in the person suffering a panic seizure.

In the past, many people with a panic attack seizure disorder, or PNES, have been treated with epileptic medications. Since the seizures are not caused by an actual brain disease, these medications will not stop the disorder. When normal courses of epileptic drugs fail to stop the seizures, the patient is sent to an epileptologist, a physician who specializes in seizure treatment and study, and the diagnosis of PNES is reached following a course of EEG monitoring. Nearly one out of every five patients sent to an epileptologist is found to be suffering from PNES.

Psychosomatic Illness

While a panic attack seizure falls under the category of psychosomatic illness, or an illness brought about by the mind, they are no less real then epilepsy. They cannot be controlled by the person suffering the disease; the syndrome is often made worse by family or health professionals who feel the patient is “faking” the episodes. These seizures fall under a broad category known as conversion disorders, in which the mind can cause the body to take on very real illnesses. It is imperative that the person suffering from PNES is treated with respect and dignity, and that their disorder is not shrugged off as “all in the mind.” Questioning the person suffering the syndrome and making light of their suffering will only increase the stress that causes the seizures.

Hardly a new concept, the panic attack seizure was often referred to in the past as “the vapors” and “hysteria.” In modern times, the importance of mind over body has been proven, and the stigma that used to be associated with PNES has been lifted. Women tend to have the disorder more frequently than men, and the age of onset generally is above ten, while the majority of sufferers are in their thirties. Teenagers can suffer from PNES, usually due to the high stress involved in their lives; peer pressure, dating, the push to excel in studies, and packed social agendas all are factors that can cause a panic attack seizure disorder in this age group.

Treating PNES

Treatment for psychogenic non-epileptic seizure (PNES) focuses on dealing with the underlying emotional problems, usually under the care of a psychologist or other mental health specialist. Stress reduction techniques may be explored, as well as other anxiety coping skills. Medication therapy to treat depression and anxiety will be initiated as well. Most patients will rebel when they learn that their panic attack seizure disorder has an emotional element rather than a physical one, and again, it is up to family, friends and health professionals to deal with this aspect in a kind, supportive and caring manner to ensure the person suffering from PNES receives the help that they need.

The sooner the diagnosis is recognized, the higher the chances are for a complete recovery from PNES. With caring and compassionate support, the person suffering from a panic attack seizure disorder can seek treatment and go on to live a full and normal life.

Related terms: Simple Partial Seizures Panic Attack, Differential Diagnosis for Seizure, Residual Seizure Disorder, Anxiety Seizure Disorder, Epilepsy Panic Attacks, Seizures and PTSD, Seizure Anxiety, 436 Diagnosis

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