07-08-2014 | New research reveals link between anxiety and seizures

07 August 2014
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A team of clinical psychologists from the UK and USA have shown how psychogenic seizures, also known as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNESs), which could be mistaken for epilepsy are associated with feelings of anxiety.

 The researchers developed a new set of tests to establish if there was a connection between how people understand and respond to anxiety, and incidences of PNES, which are seizures brought on by emotional states, occurring in between 2 and 33 per 100,000 people.

Researchers from the University of Lincoln, University of Nottingham, and University of Sheffield in the UK, with Arizona State University in the USA, used a series of written and computer questionnaires to determine the level of anxiety an individual experienced; their awareness of their experiences and to establish if an individual regularly avoided situations which might cause them anxiety.

The individuals who participated in this research were comprised of 30 adults with PNES, 25 adults with epilepsy, and a further 31 adults with no reported history of seizures who acted as a nonclinical control group.

All individuals undertook a computer assignment which required fast responses to true or false questions. This test was designed to gather data on immediate, or implied, beliefs about anxiety. Individuals also answered questions about common physical complaints that may have no medical explanation. The range of illnesses individuals reported included conditions like gastrointestinal problems, tiredness and back pain.

The results showed that those with PNES reported significantly more common physical complaints that may have no medical explanation than others in the study; this group also avoided situations that might make them anxious. The group with PNES also scored much higher than the control group when it came to awareness of their anxiety.

The tests accurately predicted whether a patient had epilepsy or PNESs in 83% of study participants. They also found a clear connection between anxiety and seizures. The results indicate that including tests to determine levels of anxiety and avoidance behaviour may enable health professionals to make earlier diagnosis, and develop more effective intervention plans.

"PNES can be a very disabling condition, and it is important that we understand the triggers so that we provide the correct care and treatment," said Dr Lian Dimaro, Lead Researcher who completed the study as part of her doctorate in Clinical Psychology on the Trent Doctorate in Clinical Psychology programme.

"This study was one of the first to bring modern psychological tools of investigation to this problem. The findings support the idea that increasing a person's tolerance of unpleasant emotions and reducing avoidant behaviour may help with treatment, suggesting that patients could benefit from a range of therapies including acceptance and commitment therapy to help reduce the frequency of seizures, although more research is needed in this area."

Source: Science Codex and Epilepsy & Behavior

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