Anxiety is a natural human emotion that arises as an alert due to potential danger or threat. In most cases, this reaction is short-lived. However, in some people, feelings of anxiety are extended and become a chronic condition that affects their daily lives. Anxiety can lead to several physical and mental disorders. The article below highlights the relationship between anxiety and other mental symptoms.
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Can Anxiety Cause Seizures?
As mentioned, anxiety is the human body’s natural reaction to threats or danger. On the other hand, seizures are brief periods characterized by uncontrolled electrical brain activity that provokes various changes in the human body. Seizures are caused by a wide range of triggers, including stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can trigger a condition called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures or pseudoseizures in people without epilepsy.
What Are Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES) or Pseudo-Seizures?
Most people don’t understand what is a pseudoseizure? Well, psychogenic non-epileptic seizures or pseudoseizures are different from neurological seizures caused by abnormal brain activity. Often abbreviated as PNES, these are brain responses to stress or anxiety in extreme levels to be considered psychiatric. PNES is classified among functional neurological disorders or conversion disorders.
Typically, these disorders occur due to emotional stressors that cause physical signs that can’t be justified with other underlying conditions. PNES usually affects those who struggle to manage anxiety, stress, and traumatic emotions using traditionally accepted coping mechanisms. Once the emotions become overwhelming enough, it shuts down the body’s defense mechanism.
What Are the Symptoms of PNES?
While neurological seizures and symptoms of pseudoseizure are quite similar, there is some difference between these two conditions. Below are the differentiating symptoms.
Symptoms of PNES that feature in neurological seizures:
- Loss of Body Control
- Reduced Awareness
- Arching Head
- Tongue Biting
- Thrashing or Flailing
Symptoms of pseudoseizures not in neurological seizures include:
- Side to Side Head Movements
- Muscle Contractions
- Non-Synchronized Body Movements
- Fluttering or Closed Eyes
- Memory Recall
Causes of Pseudoseizure
Pseudoseizures can be caused by mental disorders or psychological stress. Common causes of PNES include:
- Panic Attacks
- Alcohol and Substance Abuse
- Traumatic Events
- Continuous Family Conflicts
- Anger Management Issues
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Sexual or Physical Abuse
- Schizophrenia and Other Dissociative Disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
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How Is PNES Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of Pseudoseizure can be difficult, especially since the doctor can’t witness the seizure, and symptoms described often match the symptoms of epileptic seizures. Therefore, most patients with PNES end up being diagnosed with epilepsy and are only considered to have pseudoseizure if they don’t respond to epilepsy drugs.
Nonetheless, patients with seizures who don’t respond to epilepsy treatment require special care and video EEG monitoring. EEG records are used to monitor the patient’s brain activity. Mental health specialists can use this information to make an accurate diagnosis of the condition.
If the EEG doesn’t show the abnormal firing of the brain’s neurons, the patient is diagnosed with PNES and not epilepsy. Brain CT scan and MRI may also be requested. Accurate diagnosis and treatment of PNES require the collaboration of psychiatrists, neurologists, and psychologists.
How Is PNES Treated?
Unlike neurological seizures, PNES is psychological. Therefore, treatment of any underlying condition is important. Treatment options include:
- Psychotherapy – CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a good option for any anxiety-related disorders. CBT enables affected individuals to learn how to cope with anxious or stressful thoughts and feelings. This can reduce the frequency of PNES.
- Medications – Antiepileptic drugs cannot help in treating pseudoseizures since the seizures are not neurological. Therefore, Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors are preferred to reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
- Lifestyle Changes – Various lifestyle changes can minimize exposure to stressful situations and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Good sleep, daily exercise, a balanced diet, and mindful meditation can reduce anxiety and improve the quality of life.
Can a Panic Attack Cause a Seizure?
Anxiety and panic attacks are two commonly confused medical conditions due to their overlapping symptoms. In some cases, symptoms of anxiety attack manifest as intense episodes of a panic attack. These symptoms include:
- Sharp Chest and Abdominal Pains
- Hot Flashes or Chills
- Difficulty in Breathing
- Dread or Panic Feeling
- Feeling Disconnected from Self or Reality
- Numbness or Tingling Extremities
Panic attacks are not known to cause neurological seizures, especially in people without epilepsy. However, there is a strong correlation between PNES and panic attacks in people with epilepsy. A recent study concluded that 83% of participants with PNES also reported accompanying panic attacks. While these study results suggest that panic attacks can trigger PNES, conclusive research is still imminent.
What Is the Difference Between a Panic Attack and a PNES?
PNES and panic attacks can both occur due to stress and anxiety. However, there are slight differences between these two conditions. Panic attacks are typical episodes with classic symptoms resembling those of anxiety. The symptoms can occur within 10 minutes, and the affected person may remain functional during the attack.
On the other hand, PNES or pseudoseizures have no symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. They start gradually and often last longer. Some people with PNES may also experience panic attack symptoms. Doctors often use panic attacks as a differential diagnostic tool to differentiate between neurological seizures and PNES.
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Even though anxiety cannot trigger neurological seizures in patients without epilepsy, it potentially triggers PNES. These episodes have a strong psychiatric origin, and treating anxiety can reduce or eliminate pseudoseizures. If you are concerned about anxiety and PNES, reach out to Mango Clinic for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.