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.

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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