The term "pseudoseizures" describes events that appear on the surface to be seizures from epilepsy, but in patients who are not epileptic. Instead, these seizures are caused by abnormal psychology and as such are often thought of as a type of conversion disorder. Conversion disorders are conditions in which the patient suffers from symptoms of diseases that he does not actually have.
General Seizure Description
To understand what a pseudoseizure is, it is important to understand the general characteristics of a seizure. Seizures can take many forms, but in general they involve a sudden change in behavior, body function, sensation or movement. Seizures can range from a sudden and involuntary jerking of the limbs to a temporary loss of cognition and "freezing" during activities (known as a partial seizure).
Pseudoseizures vs. Seizures
The symptoms of a pseudoseizure are very similar to those of an epileptic seizure, except that their origin is psychological, not neurological. One of the characteristics of an epileptic seizure is that there is an abnormal discharge of electricity from the brain during the seizure. There is no such discharge during a pseudoseizure.
Certain behaviors occur more commonly in pseudoseizures than in epileptic seizures. For example, a person having a pseudoseizure is more likely to bite the tip of her tongue (during a true seizure an epileptic's tongue goes limp and its tip is often inaccessible to her teeth). Other characteristics of a pseudoseizure include the seizure having a gradual onset, its duration lasting for two or more minutes, and the person shutting his eyes during the seizure. Pseduoseizures often involve the person's head moving from side to side, which rarely occurs in epileptic seizures.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) can rule out epilepsy in a person experiencing pseudoseizures. This test involves attaching a series of electrodes to the patient's scalp to monitor her brain's electrical activity. As noted above, pseudoseizures lack the abnormal electrical activity characteristic of epileptic seizures. In addition, many epileptic seizures will result in the release of a hormone known as prolactin, which is present in the blood after the seizure. Pseudoseizures will not involve any subsequent rise in blood prolactin.
Pseudoseizure Risk Factors
Three-fourths of all people who suffer from pseudoseizures are women. Onset tends to occur in early adulthood or late in the teenage years. People who suffer from pseudoseizures generally also have other psychological disorders, such as major depression or an anxiety disorder. They also typically have a history of many undefined or poorly understood medical problems.