Over the past year I have had a number of clients suffering from non-epileptic seizures (NES) coming to see me for help and more enquiries from people seeking help in this regard keep popping up.
Non-epileptic seizures (NES) or dissociative seizures are different from epilepsy as they have a different cause. If you, or someone you know, has been diagnosed with non-epileptic seizures it may be helpful for you to identify the type of seizures that are relevant to you and how you feel about them. Non-epileptic seizures (NES) are not caused by disrupted electrical activity in the brain and so are different from epilepsy. They can have a number of different causes.
Types of NES:
Non-epileptic seizures (NES) can be divided into two types: organic non-epileptic seizures and psychogenic seizures.
These seizures have a physical cause (relating to the body). They include fainting (syncope) and metabolic (biochemical processes in the body) causes such as diabetes.
Because organic NES have a physical cause, they may be relatively easy to diagnose and the underlying cause can be found. For example, a faint may be diagnosed as being caused by a physical problem in the heart. In these cases, if the underlying cause can be treated the seizures will stop.
Some NES are called ‘psychogenic seizures’. 'Psychogenic' means they are caused by mental or emotional processes, rather than by a physical cause. Psychogenic seizures may happen when someone's reaction to painful or difficult thoughts and feelings affects them physically.
Psychogenic seizures include different types:
Dissociative seizures happen unconsciously, which means that the person has no control over them and they are not ‘put on’. This is the most common type of NES.
Panic attacks can happen in frightening situations, when remembering previous frightening experiences or in a situation that the person expects to be frightening. Panic attacks can cause sweating, palpitations (being able to feel your heart beat), trembling and difficulty breathing. The person may also lose consciousness and may shake (convulse).
Factitious seizures means that the person has some level of conscious control over them. An example of this is when seizures form part of Münchausen’s Syndrome, a rare psychiatric condition where a person is driven by a need to have medical investigations and treatments.
Other names for non-epileptic seizures
Non-epileptic seizures are sometimes known as non-epileptic attacks. People who have non-epileptic seizures may be described as having 'non-epileptic attack disorder' (NEAD).
These terms are not always helpful because they describe the condition by saying what it is not rather than by saying what it is. NES used to be called 'pseudoseizures’ but this name is unhelpful because it sounds like the person is not having 'real' seizures or their seizures are deliberately 'put on'.
A newer name for non-epileptic seizures is 'dissociative seizures'. This is helpful because it does not describe seizures in terms of epilepsy. It is also recognised by the World Health Organization (this means that it is included in the International Classification of Diseases: a list of all known diseases and conditions).
So what can I do to help you? NES is considered a psychological issue and not neurological. Psychotherapy is the recommended treatment for NES. Psychotherapy is the name for a group of different ‘talking’ therapies (treatments). The blend of various therapies that I am trained in can help to facilitate you getting to grips with NES, improving your quality of life and in many instances, freeing you from them completely. It is advised that you first seek the advice of your GP to rule out epilepsy (which you may have alongside NES and that is fine) and/or any other underlying cause for what you are experiencing.The good news is - there is hope!