Pseudo-seizures resemble epileptic seizures. People with pseudo-seizures experience episodes of loss of consciousness, twitching or jerking, and unusual emotional states, such as feelings of fear or deja vu.
The onset of the seizure is usually gradual and often the spasms of muscles cause a backward arching of the head, neck and spine. Sometimes the person may respond to commands. The episodes may last as long as 20 minutes, but are not associated with electrical abnormalities in the brain as in the case of epileptic seizures.
People with pseudo-seizures often fail to respond to anti-epileptic drugs. To complicate matters, 25 percent to 30 percent of people who have epileptic seizures also have pseudo-seizures. Even for trained medical professionals, the difference between epileptic seizures and pseudo-seizures are difficult to recognize. One should see a neurologist who will use an electroencephalogram to determine electrical readings in the brain. This is the best method to determine what type of seizure a person has.
Physicians believe pseudo-seizures are psychological defense mechanisms induced by stress or episodes of severe emotional trauma. The seizures happen when people try to avoid or forget the trauma. People who experience pseudo-seizures are often not aware of the cause or are able to consciously control the event. They are not malingering. They are experiencing severe emotional stress. Their brain is finding a way to release this stress and to communicate feelings which are not safe to express.
These individuals do not have the skills to put their intense emotions into words. Rage, fear and panic are frequently common elements associated with pseudo-seizures.
It is not uncommon for a person with pseudo-seizures to feel they have been written off or that others view them as being a hypochondriac. Many do not want to accept the fact that this illness has psychological roots.
To psychologically treat pseudo-seizures a person must first accept the diagnosis. Counseling is effective only if the counselor is able to get to the root of the emotional problem. Triggers and underlying causes need to be identified. This means coming to grips with intense fear and shame, emotions a person has hidden from themselves as well as others.
A person will need to be made aware of these emotions.
The next step is learning how to control their emotions. They need to lean how to tolerate or modulate anxiety and finally communicate effectively their needs and desires. When these goals are accomplished the seizures will decrease drastically and the individual will be able to regain control of his/her life.
Dr. Leta a. Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.