Understanding Non-Epileptic Seizures

Non-epileptic seizures (NES) – also called non-epileptic attacks – is an uncomfortable topic. It is also a confusing condition as there are several different types of NES. If you – or someone you know – suffer from NES, it is helpful to learn more about it and how it differs from epilepsy.

Different Types of Attacks

The most common type of non-epileptic attack looks just like epilepsy convulsions. Doctors refer to this type of attack as tonic-clonic seizures (or grand mal seizures). This type of NES involves noticeable twitching of the legs, arms, head, and neck. Typically, a person experiencing a tonic-clonic seizure drops to the ground and loses consciousness.

In some cases, individuals lose control of their bladder, injure themselves, or bite down on their tongue. There are also less obvious non-epileptic attacks without noticeable stiffening and tremors.

The third type of NES is difficult to diagnosis, as it involves a blank stare. A person experiencing this attack moves very little, if at all. In most cases, the individual stares off into space until the attack is over. Doctors refer to this type of attack as complex partial seizures.

During a non-epileptic attack, a person is usually unconscious. However, it is common for the individual to react to surroundings through speech or gestures. Some can even follow commands. An NES can last for a few seconds or a few hours.

How Does NES Differ from Epilepsy?

The differences between epileptic attacks and non-epileptic attacks are hard to detect, but they are there. An epileptic attack usually lasts for less than two minutes. Pelvic thrusting is rare, eyes are typically open, side-to-side head movement is rare, and crying or talking during an attack is rare.

NEAs typically last longer than two minutes, pelvic thrusting happens occasionally, side-to-side head movement, talking, and crying are all common during attacks.

What Does a Non-Epileptic Attack Feel Like?

Those who experience non-epileptic attacks describe them as confusing. During the attack, a person’s body convulses out of his or her control. Nearly all people who suffer from NES are aware of attack triggers. Some triggers include specific physical conditions, such as feeling sick or exhausted; external factors, such as loud noises or flashy lights; and certain emotional states.

Roughly 50 percent of individuals who experience non-epileptic attacks are aware of the attacks. Even those aware during the attack may not respond or react to their environment. For those individuals, they maintain control of their senses while losing control of their body.

Telling People

Telling someone about your non-epileptic attacks is the only thing more challenging than telling someone you have epilepsy. While most people have a basic understanding of epilepsy and seizures, they do not know people without epilepsy can experience seizures, too.

NES is not a condition you want to hide from those close to you. It is a terrifying experience to witness someone having a seizure. You prepare those you care about by discussing what to expect with them before an attack happens. More importantly, you need your family and friends to know what to do to help and protect you during a seizure.

Fortunately, individuals with NES can live a relatively normal life – especially by avoiding triggers.