Close
New

Medscape is available in 5 Language Editions – Choose your Edition here.

 

Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Selim R Benbadis, MD; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
 
Updated: Oct 09, 2015
 

History

Misdiagnosis of epilepsy is common. Misdiagnosis occurs in approximately 25% of patients with a previous diagnosis of epilepsy that does not respond to drugs. Most cases of misdiagnosed epilepsy are eventually shown to be psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) or, more rarely, syncope. Other paroxysmal conditions are occasionally misdiagnosed as epilepsy, but PNES is by far the most commonly misdiagnosed condition, accounting for >90% of misdiagnoses at epilepsy centers. EEGs misinterpreted as providing evidence for epilepsy often contribute to this misdiagnosis.[3, 4, 5]

Reversing a misdiagnosis of epilepsy can be difficult, as it is with other chronic conditions. Unfortunately, after the diagnosis of seizures is made, it is easily perpetuated without being questioned, which explains the usual diagnostic delay and cost associated with PNES. Despite the ability to diagnose PNES with near certainty by using EEG-video monitoring, the time to diagnosis is long, about 7-10 years. This delay indicates that neurologists may have an insufficiently high enough index of suspicion for PNES.

The patient's history may suggest the diagnosis. Several clues are useful in clinical practice and should raise the suspicion that seizures may be psychogenic rather than epileptic.

Resistance to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) is usually the first clue and the reason for referral to the epilepsy center, though intractable epilepsy is the other common cause of resistance to AEDs.

Approximately 80% of patients with PNES have been treated with AEDs before the correct diagnosis is made. A psychogenic etiology should be considered when AEDs have no effect whatsoever on the reported frequency of seizures.

The presence of specific triggers that are unusual for epilepsy may suggest PNES, and these triggers should be specifically sought during history taking. For example, emotional triggers such as stress or becoming upset are common in PNES. Other triggers that suggest PNES include pain, certain movements, sounds, and certain types of lights, especially if they are reported to consistently trigger an apparent seizure.

The circumstances in which attacks occur can be helpful. Like other psychogenic symptoms, those of PNES usually occur in the presence of an audience, and an occurrence in the physician's office or waiting room is highly suggestive of PNES. Similarly, PNES usually do not occur during sleep, though they may seem to and though they may be reported as such.

Details of the episodes often include characteristics that are inconsistent with epileptic seizures.

In particular, some characteristics of the motor (i.e., convulsive) phenomena are associated with PNES (see EEG video monitoring in Other Tests). Common and helpful symptoms include side-to-side shaking of the head, bilateral asynchronous movements (e.g., bicycling), weeping, stuttering, and arching of the back. (See video below.) In a study of 120 seizures (36 PNES and 84 epileptic seizures) from 35 patients, only a few signs were reliable in predicting the diagnosis. PNES were predicted by preserved awareness, eye flutter, and episodes affected by bystanders (intensified or alleviated). Epileptic seizures were predicted by abrupt onset, eye-opening/widening, and postictal confusion/sleep. In addition, as compared with signs viewed on video recording, eyewitness reports of these signs were not reliable.[6] It is important to emphasize that no sign isitselfdiagnostic or 100% specific, but fortunately most patients have several of them.

Psychogenic nonepileptic attacks. The event is provoked by an induction (or provocative) technique. Note the typical irregular nonclonic nontonic and asynchronous movements (including bicycling) with stop-and-go phenomenon.

The patient's medical history can be useful. Coexisting, poorly defined, and probably psychogenic conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue, are associated with psychogenic symptoms.[7] Similarly, a florid review of systems suggests somatization.

A psychosocial history with evidence of maladaptive behaviors or associated psychiatric diagnoses should raise the suspicion of PNES. Pay particular attention during mental status evaluation, especially to the patient's general demeanor, the appropriateness of this or her level of concern, overdramatization, and hysterical features.

Certain symptoms suggest epileptic seizures. These include significant injury. In particular, tongue biting and an ictal cry[8] are highly specific to generalized tonic-clonic seizures and are helpful signs when present.

Antecedent sexual trauma or abuse is thought to be important in the psychopathology of psychogenic seizures and psychogenic symptoms in general. A history of abuse may be more frequent in convulsive rather than limp type of PNES.

Next

Physical Examination

Physical and neurologic findings are usually normal, but the examination can also uncover suggestive features. For example, overly dramatic behaviors, give-way weakness, and a weak voice or stuttering can be useful predictors.

Psychological features suggestive of psychogenic episodes include anxiety, depression, inappropriate affect or lack of concern (la belle indifference), multiple and vague somatic complaints suggestive of somatization disorder, and abnormal interaction with family members.

Previous
 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Selim R Benbadis, MD Professor, Director of Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Tampa General Hospital, University of South Florida College of Medicine

Selim R Benbadis, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Medical Association, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, American Epilepsy Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cyberonics; Eisai; Lundbeck; Sunovion; UCB; Upsher-Smith<br/>Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Cyberonics; Eisai; Glaxo Smith Kline; Lundbeck; Sunovion; UCB<br/>Received research grant from: Cyberonics; Lundbeck; Sepracor; Sunovion; UCB; Upsher-Smith.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Jose E Cavazos, MD, PhD, FAAN, FANA, FACNS Professor with Tenure, Departments of Neurology, Pharmacology, and Physiology, Assistant Dean for the MD/PhD Program, Program Director of the Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship, University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio; Co-Director, South Texas Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, University Hospital System; Director, San Antonio Veterans Affairs Epilepsy Center of Excellence and Neurodiagnostic Centers, Audie L Murphy Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Jose E Cavazos, MD, PhD, FAAN, FANA, FACNS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, American Neurological Association, Society for Neuroscience, American Epilepsy Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Brain Sentinel, consultant.<br/>Stakeholder (<5%), Co-founder for: Brain Sentinel.

Chief Editor

Helmi L Lutsep, MD Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Neurology, Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine; Associate Director, OHSU Stroke Center

Helmi L Lutsep, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Stroke Association

Disclosure: Medscape Neurology Editorial Advisory Board for: Stroke Adjudication Committee, CREST2.

Additional Contributors

Raj D Sheth, MD Chief, Division of Pediatric Neurology, Nemours Children's Clinic; Professor of Neurology, Mayo College of Medicine; Professor of Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine

Raj D Sheth, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Epilepsy Society, American Neurological Association, Child Neurology Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

References
  1. LaFrance WC, Benbadis SR. Avoiding the costs of unrecognized psychological nonepileptic seizures. Neurology. 2006 Jun 13. 66(11):1620-1. [Medline].

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1994.

  3. Benbadis SR, Tatum WO. Overintepretation of EEGs and misdiagnosis of epilepsy. J Clin Neurophysiol. 2003 Feb. 20(1):42-4. [Medline].

  4. Benbadis SR, Lin K. Errors in EEG interpretation and misdiagnosis of epilepsy. Which EEG patterns are overread?. Eur Neurol. 2008. 59(5):267-71. [Medline].

  5. Benbadis SR. Errors in EEGs and the misdiagnosis of epilepsy: importance, causes, consequences, and proposed remedies. Epilepsy Behav. 2007 Nov. 11(3):257-62. [Medline].

  6. Syed TU, Lafrance WC Jr, Kahriman ES, et al. Can semiology predict psychogenic nonepileptic seizures? a prospective study. Ann Neurol. 2011 Jun. 69(6):997-1004. [Medline].

  7. Benbadis SR. A spell in the epilepsy clinic and a history of "chronic pain" or "fibromyalgia" independently predict a diagnosis of psychogenic seizures. Epilepsy Behav. 2005 Mar. 6(2):264-5. [Medline].

  8. Elzawahry H, Do CS, Lin K, Benbadis SR. The diagnostic utility of the ictal cry. Epilepsy Behav. 2010 Jun 1. [Medline].

  9. Benbadis SR, LaFrance WC Jr, Papandonatos GD, Korabathina K, Lin K, Kraemer HC. Interrater reliability of EEG-video monitoring. Neurology. 2009 Sep 15. 73(11):843-6. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  10. Hubsch C, Baumann C, Hingray C, Gospodaru N, Vignal JP, Vespignani H, et al. Clinical classification of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures based on video-EEG analysis and automatic clustering. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2011 Sep. 82(9):955-60. [Medline].

  11. Benbadis SR, O'Neill E, Tatum WO, Heriaud L. Outcome of prolonged video-EEG monitoring at a typical referral epilepsy center. Epilepsia. 2004 Sep. 45(9):1150-3. [Medline].

  12. Benbadis SR. Mental heath organizations and the ostrich policy. Neuropsychiatry. 2013. 1:5-7.

  13. Goldstein LH, Chalder T, Chigwedere C, Khondoker MR, Moriarty J, Toone BK, et al. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: a pilot RCT. Neurology. 2010 Jun 15. 74(24):1986-94. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  14. Harden CL, Burgut FT, Kanner AM. The diagnostic significance of video-EEG monitoring findings on pseudoseizure patients differs between neurologists and psychiatrists. Epilepsia. 2003 Mar. 44(3):453-6. [Medline].

  15. LaFrance WC Jr, Keitner GI, Papandonatos GD, et al. Pilot pharmacologic randomized controlled trial for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. Neurology. 2010 Sep 28. 75(13):1166-73. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  16. Benbadis SR. Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. Wyllie E, Gupta A, Lachhwani DK, eds. The Treatment of Epilepsy: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005. 623-30.

  17. Benbadis SR. The problem of psychogenic symptoms: is the psychiatric community in denial?. Epilepsy Behav. 2005 Feb. 6(1):9-14. [Medline].

  18. Ameri8can Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

  19. Mellers JD. The approach to patients with "non-epileptic seizures". Postgrad Med J. 2005 Aug. 81(958):498-504. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  20. LaFrance WC Jr, Baker GA, Duncan R, Goldstein LH, Reuber M. Minimum requirements for the diagnosis of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: a staged approach: a report from the International League Against Epilepsy Nonepileptic Seizures Task Force. Epilepsia. 2013 Nov. 54(11):2005-18. [Medline].

  21. Bravo TP, Hoffman-Snyder CR, Wellik KE, Martin KA, Hoerth MT, Demaerschalk BM, et al. The effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on the frequency of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: a critically appraised topic. Neurologist. 2013 Jan. 19(1):30-3. [Medline].

  22. LaFrance WC Jr, Baird GL, Barry JJ, Blum AS, Frank Webb A, Keitner GI, et al. Multicenter pilot treatment trial for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014 Sep 1. 71(9):997-1005. [Medline].

 
Previous
Next
 
Psychogenic nonepileptic attacks. The event is provoked by an induction (or provocative) technique. Note the typical irregular nonclonic nontonic and asynchronous movements (including bicycling) with stop-and-go phenomenon.
 
 
 
All material on this website is protected by copyright, Copyright © 1994-2016 by WebMD LLC. This website also contains material copyrighted by 3rd parties.