Nonepileptic Seizures (NES)

Topic Overview

People with nonepileptic seizures (NES) have periods of seizure-like activity. NES are characterized by a loss of or change in physical function without a central nervous system problem. The loss or change causes periods of physical activity or inactivity that resemble epileptic seizures. A person can have both nonepileptic and epileptic seizures.

NES are usually related to a mental health problem. The physical symptoms may be caused by emotional conflicts or stress. The symptoms usually appear suddenly and at times of extreme emotional stress. Some health professionals believe that the symptoms of NES may be an attempt to reduce anxiety by not recognizing or responding to an emotional conflict.

People with NES have periods of loss of or change in physical activity that resemble epileptic seizures or the aura of a seizure, such as:

  • Impaired or jerky movements.
  • Disturbances in coordination.
  • Temporary blindness.
  • Tunnel vision.
  • Loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) or touch (anesthesia).
  • Tingling sensation to the skin (paresthesia).

People with NES usually exhibit only one symptom. However, if episodes recur, the symptom may reappear but in a different location or intensity.

Treatment of NES varies with the individual. The goals of treatment for NES are to relieve the stress or emotional conflicts that may be causing the loss of or change in physical function. Treatment may include medicines, counseling, or specific life changes, such as a job change or assistance at home.

Because NES are not caused by a problem in the brain, medicines that are used to treat epilepsy are not used to treat this condition.

Related Information

Credits

Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven L. Schneider, MD - Family Medicine
Last Updated October 12, 2009

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