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Non-epileptic Seizures

What is a non-epileptic seizure?

Non-epileptic seizure (NES) is a short period of symptoms that change how you move, think, or feel. NES looks like an epileptic seizure, but there are no electrical changes in the brain. NES is a serious condition. Early diagnosis and treatment are needed to prevent further problems.

What causes a non-epileptic seizure?

NES is more common in women and in people who are between 15 and 35 years old. It is caused by the body's reaction to severe mental stress. Common triggers are depression, hallucinations, mild head injuries, and sexual or physical abuse.

What are the signs and symptoms of a non-epileptic seizure?

  • Twitching in your arms or legs that lasts more than 2 minutes

  • Crying, screaming, or weeping

  • Head, neck, and spine bent backwards

  • Side to side head movements

  • Strong or powerful pushing of the hips

  • Thrashing or violent movements, such as striking at walls or breaking pieces of furniture

  • Tongue biting

How is a non-epileptic seizure diagnosed?

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • An MRI of the head takes pictures of your brain, blood vessels, and skull. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • A CT , or CAT scan, takes pictures of your skull and brain. You may be given contrast liquid before the scan. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

  • EEG: This test is also called an electroencephalogram. Many small pads or metal discs are put on your head. Each has a wire that is hooked to a machine. This machine prints a paper tracing of brain wave activity from different parts of your brain. Caregivers look at the tracing to see how your brain is working.

  • Video-electroencephalography: A video-electroencephalogram records behavior and the EEG at the same time. Changes in behavior are related to changes in the EEG.

How is a non-epileptic seizure treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Antianxiety medicine: This medicine may be given to decrease anxiety and help you feel calm and relaxed.

    • Antidepressants: These medicines are mainly given to decrease the symptoms of depression.

  • Psychosocial therapy:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy: With a therapist, you will learn to face the feared object or situation slowly and carefully. You will also learn to control the mental and physical reactions of fear.

    • Psychotherapy: Your therapist may include your family or people who are close to you during these talks.

Where can I get more information?

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    3615 Wisconsin Avenue NW
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 202 - 966-7300
    Web Address:
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address:

What are the risks of a non-epileptic seizure?

Medicines may cause dry mouth, fast heartbeat, constipation, sleepiness, or weight gain. Untreated NES may become a long-term condition that prevents you from having a normal life. Your health, quality of life, and ability to function may greatly change. NES treatment is more difficult if these problems are present.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You are depressed and feel you cannot cope with your illness.

  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.

  • You have new symptoms that you did not have at your last healthcare provider visit.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel like fainting or are lightheaded or too dizzy to stand up.

  • You were injured during or after a seizure.

  • You think about hurting or killing yourself or someone else.

  • You have chest pain, tightness, or pressure that may spread to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back.

  • You had a seizure that continued for more than 5 minutes.

  • You are having breathing problems and your lips, fingernails, or face turn blue.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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