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Time to Take Non-epileptic Seizures Seriously

In our field there has been so much controversy on how to treat non-epileptic seizures. Non-epileptic seizures can be defined as the body’s response to mental stressors. Many of these patients have been treated as having epilepsy and are given epilepsy medications. For patients with epilepsy these medications can be lifesaving but for someone who doesn’t have epilepsy, taking these medications can be harmful and damaging to their brains. This may cause them to feel fatigue and to be dizzy.


The hospital where I was trained routinely dismissed these seizures. The doctors believed they did not have time to treat these types of non-epileptic seizures. Then I began working at another hospital, and the clinicians working there completely disagreed with that approach. The doctors wanted to ensure those types of patients would receive the treatment they so desperately needed and deserved. From what I observed, the most common treatment for these seizures is psychotherapy, more specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can be defined as examining the connection between a person’s thoughts and their feelings and behaviors. The epileptologists would explain to the patients that the non epileptic seizures are not harming their brain but what is happening to them is still harmful to their lives. The epileptologist would also explain that no medicine can fix these non epileptic events; however, the patient needs to seek counseling to deal with issues that are causing these events. I think it is difficult for some patients to accept that they do not have seizures but that their mind is causing these events.


Several of the patients I served over the years have had a history of mental, physical, and sexual abuse which may have contributed to these non-epileptic seizures. Even though these non-epileptic seizures may not cause physical damage to the brain tissue, they do have long term negative effects on these patients' lives. These patients may suffer terrible injuries from falls and car accidents from non-epileptic seizures. This often times negatively impact their lives by not being able to work to support themselves, which in turn may produce reasons for more mental stress and lead to more non-epileptic events. I believe this is why research is so important for this disorder because it truly affects these patients' lives in so many ways. I am aware of research being done by Michigan Medicine where they have discovered differences in patient’s brains with nonepileptic seizures vs those who do not suffer from non-epileptic seizures. According to their research there is observable thinning in the superior temporal cortex, which is a part of the brain that affects a person’s cognitive awareness and the control of one’s actions. This seems to provide some insight into why these patients may have less control over the actions of their bodies under certain circumstances. I hope as a field we can continue researching the causes for non-epilpetic seizures so new ways of diagnosing and treating nonepileptic seizures can be discovered.


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