Alarming: 40% of seizures are due to depression or stress

Non-epileptic seizures are caused by something other than epilepsy, typically by psychological conditions.  A study conducted by a renowned paediatric neurologist at a hospital in Mumbai revealed that out of 200 cases of epilepsy, 40 per cent have pseudo epilepsy.  These are episodes of seizures that an individual gets purely due to stress, depression or psychological reasons that is not due to epilepsy

Alarming: 40% of seizures are due to depression or stress

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  • Pseudo seizures are commonly known as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) these are episodes of seizures that an individual gets purely due to stress, depression or psychological reasons that are not due to epilepsy.
  • Pseudo seizures have a gradual onset, whereas epileptic seizures tend to start abruptly.
  • Symptoms at the onset of pseudo seizures that can be confused with seizure auras include palpitations, choking, numbness, pain and visual hallucinations.
  • The cause of a pseudo seizure is not the consequence of abnormal discharges in the brain but rather a psychological or emotional response related to a conversion or dissociative disorder. Pseudo seizures are often a response to some psychosocial stressor

“When a patient comes in with seizures, at first, we generally medicate them for epilepsy. But now realise that many of them are not epileptic seizures but pseudo seizures,” said Dr Neelu Desai, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist at PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre.

A study was conducted by Dr Desai and her students among 200 such patients. “The study concluded that 40 per cent of patients who come to us suffer from pseudo seizures. This is alarming because these people will still be treated for epilepsy, if the doctor doesn’t find out. This could have hazardous results,” added Dr Desai.

Let’s take the case of an 18-year-old Deepak (name changed) who came to Sion hospital after going to multiple doctors in Mumbai for treating his seizures.

Dr Sagar Karia, psychiatrist at Sion Hospital and LTMG College and secretary of Bombay Psychiatric Society, said, “For almost three years he was taking treatment for epilepsy. But somehow it didn’t have any effect on him.  Finally his doctor asked him to check with a psychiatrist and that’s when he came to us. After a thorough check-up, we realised that he had pseudo seizures purely due to severe depression. According to me, 50 per cent of patients who take medicines for epileptic seizures purely have pseudo seizures.”

He further added, “There is very little research on this topic due to which a lot of patients may be misdiagnosed. Seizures could be a symptom of excessive anxiety, stress or depression.”