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Epilepsy

Non-epileptic attacks

Under certain circumstances, such as extreme stress, anyone can have a single seizure. This is not the same as having epilepsy, which means having a tendency to experience recurrent seizures that originate in the brain.

Non-epileptic attacks appear similar to epileptic seizures but they are not accompanied by the same characteristic changes in brain activity. As with epileptic seizures, people may fall and injure themselves. They may convulse and they may even be incontinent. Non-epileptic attacks may occur for either physical or psychological reasons and diagnosis is often difficult. Some patients diagnosed with epilepsy, which continues despite anti-epileptic medication, can turn out to be something other than epilepsy. Therefore it is important that the diagnosis be kept under review.

A woman, who had been seizure free after having neurosurgery for epilepsy, wondered if an episode she had had was a panic attack. One man discussed the non-epileptic seizures he was having. Another man, who was diagnosed with having non-epileptic seizures, described his symptoms. He also recalled the tests he had had to show that his seizures were non-epileptic.

 

Wonders whether an episode she had was a panic attack.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 1
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But its only since I had a lot more stress that in the last, I think the last year was dreadful, it was a terrible year I had a, I also had a bad attack. I don't think that's so much to do with the epilepsy but it, whether it affected it slightly I don't know. But I had a, what kind of an attack, it was a mental attack where I just suddenly one day I was just all over the place. And I didn't know what I was doing and I was acting, well like a hyena laughing. I was doing a lot of strange things and I was absolutely loopy. 

Do you remember any of this yourself? 

Sorry? 

Do you remember any of this yourself or?

Yeah I remember actually doing it. 

OK. 

But I couldn't stop it, my brain, it just wouldn't let me stop it. And since then I've been having you know a few more seizures. But you see this is where, you know is it seizures or are they anxiety attacks, I just don't you know. 

Did you discuss this with your doctor? 

I did, but he seems to say, he is one of them that says its anxiety attacks.

 

Describes the seizures he had which were finally diagnosed as non-epileptic.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 49
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The fits themselves again vary in intensity and I'm one of these people, I don't go unconscious. At least that's a very rare thing and if I do its apparently only a second or two, its between realising I'm gonna hit the floor and hitting the floor. As soon as I get up, as soon as I'm on the floor I'm awake, I'm conscious again, but there's nothing I can do about things. I'm shaking, I'm shaking away there. I can hear people talking, I can hear what they're saying, in particular they say 'Oh phone for the ambulance, phone for the ambulance.' Now I don't want an ambulance, its no good, absolutely no good unless 

I've damaged myself which thankfully is a rare occasion.

But really in my own case when I'm at that stage its usually crash, bang, wallop on the floor, have a little shake and I'll feel groggy for perhaps an hour, hour and a half, and then I'm more or less back to normal.

 

Describes what first happened when he had a non-epileptic seizure.

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 35
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Yes in 1995 I started having some very strange thoughts, strange thoughts about God, strange thoughts about famous people and so on and so forth, and alongside that came the, came a problem I used to have with my handwriting whilst I was in hospital. I was finding that I wasn't being able to cope with my handwriting very well, I was finding that I started repeating and repeating and repeating and started scribbling and started scribbling and started scribbling. And I didn't think much of it, I didn't think anything of it until I went to university a couple of months later and then again I would start scribbling and scribbling and scribbling and scribbling and scribbling.

For how long? 

Oh each time it would be 40 minutes to 1 hour. 

Right.

I mean if somebody would catch me they would grab the pen out of my hand and they would stop me. 

 

Discusses the tests that showed his seizures were non-epileptic.

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 35
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So he said "At the same time as giving you the telemetry unit I'm going to refer you to a neuro psychiatrist." 

Right, this was the professor? 

So this was another professor, another professor, a neuro psychiatrist and we had to wait an awful long time to see him as well (laughs ).No probably not, probably 5 months. 

On the NHS? 

On the NHS yes, so when we went to see this neuro psychiatrist and he asked us, his senior staff grade asked us a lot of questions, took about an hour with. Asked us questions right from my birth, right the way through till my, right the way through till the seizures. 

Then we went to Professor, whatever his name was and he said "It sounds fascinating and it sounds like it could be temporal lobe epilepsy but on the balance of probabilities I think it probably is not temporal lobe epilepsy." So I thought he might be right but he never gave me an alternative to what it could be except he said "It's a manifestation of your manic depression." 

Right. 

It's being brought on by your manic depression. 





Although the causes of non-epileptic attacks are not the same as those of epilepsy, there are many similarities between epilepsy and non-epileptic seizures. The anxiety that often accompanies a diagnosis can also be similar. 

Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.

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