Pseudo-seizures (PNES) are non-epileptic seizures that originate from stress-related psychological ailments. PNES can be characterized by tremors or shaking when under extreme emotional stress, like a tiny seizure. Doctors consider most of them psychological in nature, but not purposely produced – usually the person is not aware that the spells are not “epileptic.” These are particularly hard to diagnose as a brain scan won’t show change during a non-epileptic seizure.
Common causes for PNES are extreme stress or emotional strain for long periods of time. Emotional strain puts stress on the brain and body much like prolonged high blood pressure does.
Unfortunately PNES is often misdiagnosed as normal seizing, but medications won’t work and the added stress of having an unknown medical issue usually makes symptoms worse.
My personal connection to PNES is a friend of mine from middle school, Francesca. Francesca was put under a lot of stress last year, what with health issues, college applications, multiple APs, and being part of a rigorous theatre and musical group – the strain was too much on her mind and body. She developed tremors and experienced these small “seizures”. She stopped being able to do the things she wanted to do, like take challenging classes or go to the movies.
For my catalyst project I helped Francesca with her recovery regimen – which is to maintain her physical and mental health. I did light exercise and yoga with her and we cooked some new meals together that lean to improving her diet.
Although I was helping Francesca relieve her symptoms, I’m more interested in how pseudo-seizures can be prevented in the first place. I interviewed the medical, psychological, and educational professionals in my life to see how stress in daily life can be alleviated.
I talked with three different medical professionals I know to find methods that students can use to reduce stress and avoid bodily trauma:
- Dr.G – a therapist specializing in anxiety/depression in teens.
- Dr.C – a pediatric doctor.
- Ms.F – The resident academic advisor and student counselor at my high school.
The main idea that I gathered from these free is this: It’s easy to reduce stress by taking the time for self-care. Things like getting a solid nine hours of sleep, drinking two liters of water daily, having a good diet, and exercise 2-3 times a week makes all the difference.i
Of course there are additional things that we can do, like taking vitamins (Francesca takes CardioPlus) to help with coronary blood flow and overall health.
When I went into to Dr.F and talked about what schools can do to reduce student stress, her responses were similar: Later start times in the morning, promote healthy eating, and get students active. My school has a “Happiness Club” founded by three seniors, and they have organized after-school spin/yoga classes and casual group therapy,
in addition to lunchtime friendship bracelet parties or cult movies in the cafeteria. Dr.F recommended seniors not take the most challenging classes offered to them, as they are most likely burnt out from college applications and three years of high school.
After a few months of doctor-ordered yoga and a diet plan, Francesca’s PNES is mostly dormant. She’s evidence of how well the mind and body thrives off of the slightest increase in quality of physical and mental health.
There are movements and charities to raise awareness and provide support systems for victims of chronic PNES. Some of the simple information provided by the NEAD Trust website (two images below) helps people like Francesca who live with non-epileptic attacks.