A non-epileptic seizure is a type of fit which, while it may appear the same as an epileptic seizure to an onlooker, has a different underlying cause. Both types of seizures can occur during sleep or while awake, and can lead to a person losing awareness, shaking, making odd movements repeatedly, or losing bladder control. Typically, an epileptic seizure is triggered by abnormal electrical impulses in the brain, but this is not the case for a non-epileptic seizure. In fact there are a number of different causes of seizures of the non-epileptic variety, including fainting, low blood sugar, heart problems, and psychological factors.
As the signs of a non-epileptic seizure resemble those of an epileptic seizure, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. Around a quarter of cases of epilepsy where drug treatment fails to work are later found to have been wrongly diagnosed. Many of these cases are actually non-epileptic seizures, often with psychological causes. When a non-epileptic seizure has a psychological cause it is described as psychogenic. A non-epileptic seizure with a physical cause is classed as organic.
Some psychogenic non-epileptic seizures are known as dissociative seizures. These are probably the most common form of non-epileptic seizure, and they are triggered by memories of past traumatic experiences resurfacing, sometimes during times of stress or just at random. Emotions are transformed into physical effects, and the person has a seizure over which they have no control. Sometimes seizures begin soon after the original upsetting event, and other times they start years later. It is not always possible to discover what the original event might have been.
Diagnosis of a non-epileptic seizure may be carried out using EEG video monitoring, where an electroencephalogram, or EEG, records the brain's electrical activity while the patient is filmed. If no abnormal electrical events are measured while the patient is seen having a seizure, this helps to confirm that the seizure is non-epileptic. The technique can be useful for studying movements and behaviors during the seizure, as there could be subtle signs that indicate to an expert that the condition is not epilepsy.
Treatment for non-epileptic seizures varies and, in the case of the organic type of seizure, will depend on what the physical problem is. In the case of a psychogenic non-epileptic seizure, treatment generally involves psychotherapy rather than drugs. Methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which changes the way a person thinks, can be effective.