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Non-epileptic Seizures

What is a non-epileptic seizure?

A non-epileptic seizure (NES) is a short period of symptoms that change how you move, think, or feel. A NES looks like an epileptic seizure, but there are no electrical changes in the brain. A NES is caused by the body's reaction to severe mental stress. Common triggers are depression, hallucinations, mild head injuries, and sexual or physical abuse. A NES is a serious condition. Early diagnosis and treatment are needed to prevent further problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of a NES?

  • 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 NES diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may show the cause of your NES.

  • A CT or MRI may show the cause of your NES. You may be given contrast liquid to help your brain, blood vessels, and skull show up better in the pictures. Tell the 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 the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • An EEG , or electroencephalogram, may show brain function. 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. 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 NES treated?

  • Anxiety medicine helps keep you calm and relaxed.

  • Antidepressants help decrease the symptoms of depression.

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

  • Psychotherapy is therapy that includes your family or people who are close to you.

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 NES?

You have a higher risk for another seizure within the next 2 years. 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 change. You may have trouble doing your daily activities.

Call 911 for any of the following:

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

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

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

When should I seek immediate care?

  • 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.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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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