Skip to content

Epilepsy Health Center

Epilepsy or Psychological Seizures?

Eye Movements May Help Doctors Tell the Difference
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News

June 12, 2006 -- A surprisingly large percentage of epilepsy patients who do not respond to drug treatment don't really have epilepsy at all. It often takes a decade or longer for these patients to get a correct diagnosis -- but new research finds there are simple clues that can make a correct diagnosis easier.

A patient's eye movements during a seizure can help distinguish seizurescaused by epilepsy from those psychological in nature.

That is the finding from one of three new studies examining the diagnosis of non-epileptic seizures published in the June issue of the journal Neurology.

Videos of Seizures

Researchers from the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. reviewed videos of 221 people having seizures. They found that 50 of the 52 people having non-epileptic seizures closed their eyes during the event, while 152 of 156 having epileptic seizures kept their eyes open or blinked until the seizure was over.

Researcher and neurologist Steve S. Chung, MD, says that observation could potentially shorten the time to an accurate diagnosis for many patients.

"We need to confirm these results, but these findings could help guide us toward the appropriate diagnosis early on," he says. "In our experience, family members can accurately describe whether a patient's eyes were open or closed during a seizure."

Getting a Correct Diagnosis

Roughly one in three patients with a diagnosis of epilepsy is not helped by anti-seizure drugs. It is believed that as many as a third of these patients don't have epilepsy at all.

Instead of being caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, as is the case with epilepsy, the non-epileptic seizures are psychological in origin.

University of South Florida neurologist Selim R. Benbadis, MD, tells WebMD that it takes an average of seven to nine years for patients with psychological non-epileptic seizures to get a correct diagnosis.

Today on WebMD

human head and brain waves
Causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Grand mal seizure
How is each one different?
 
marijuana plant
CBD, a plant chemical, may cut down seizures.
prescription bottle
Which medication is right for you?
 
Seizures Driving
Article
Questions for Doctor Epilepsy
Article
 
Graces Magic Diet
Article
Pills spilling from bottle in front of clock
Article
 
first aid kit
Article
Caring Child Epilepsy
Article
 
Making Home Safe
Article
epilepsy monitoring
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections