Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES): The Wounds You Cannot See

There are many types of epilepsy and seizures. More than three million Americans have been diagnosed with epilepsy, and 200,000 new cases occur each year.

Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are episodes of involuntary movement, sensation or behaviors that can look like epileptic seizures but do not have abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. PNES is often misdiagnosed as it is often related to psychological distress such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or a specific traumatic event like sexual abuse or domestic violence. 

PNES can go undiagnosed for years because some physicians do not have access to proven technological tools that provide the best results in diagnosis and are often misdiagnosed as having epilepsy. About 85% are women.

There are a few ways to diagnose PNES, but the most reliable test used is video-electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring. The patient will be monitored until hopefully an event is captured on video and the patient’s brain activity is measured and interpreted by a specialist.

UofL Physicians – Epilepsy Center offers a multidisciplinary approach to epilepsy and seizure care, with neurologists and neurosurgeons working closely with patients to diagnose and develop a tailored plan to treat the condition with groundbreaking services for adults who have seizure disorders, including PNES.

If you or someone you know suffers from PNES or seizures of any kind, give the Epilepsy Center a call and schedule a consultation.

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About Christopher Shafer, M.D.

Chris Shafer, M.D. is an epileptologist at the University of Louisville and practices with UofL Physicians – Neurology. He has a special interest in the treatment of persons experiencing psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. Dr. Shafer was principle investigator of a pilot program for post discharge support of patients diagnosed with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). He currently oversees a partnership with the UofL Institute for Sustainable Health and Optimal Aging to provide trauma informed multidisciplinary services to patients with PNES as well as train the next generation of mental health providers in the understanding and treatment of this at risk patient population.

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