New Scientist reports on a recent study that looks at the differences between epilepsy and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures – a mysterious condition that looks like a standard epileptic seizure (e.g. falling to the floor, limb shaking and unconsciousness) but does not seem to involve any disturbance in brain activity and instead is linked to underlying emotional issues and psychological distress.
It has been suggested that patients with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures consciously fake their attacks, but it now seems that although not related to a disturbance in brain function, the attacks are not under conscious control and seem to be related to conversion hysteria, where psychological stress leads to otherwise unexplained medical symptoms.
There’s more on these type of seizures in a previous post on Mind Hacks, for those that are interested.
A recent study by Dr Steve Chung and his colleagues attempted to distinguish between epileptic and non-epileptic seizures by carefully watching videos of people when they have a seizure.
They noticed that in genuine generalised epileptic seizures, the patients had their eyes open during the attack, whereas those with non-epileptic seizures had their eyes closed.
The head and eye turning that occurs at the start of the genuine seizure is typical in some forms of epilepsy, and usually indicates that the seizure starts in the side of the brain opposite to the side of turning.
The ability to easily distinguish between seizure types is important, as genuine seizures are best treated with anti-epileptic drugs, whereas non-epileptic seizures can be treated with psychological therapy.