Non-epileptic seizure

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Non-epileptic seizures are paroxysmal events that mimic an epileptic seizure but do not involve abnormal, rhythmic discharges of cortical neurons.[1] They are caused by either physiological or psychological conditions. The latter is discussed more fully in psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.


Reflex anoxic seizures are a condition of the brain where the child may become pale and limp and cease breathing, only to recover a short time later. Anoxic seizures are caused by a reflex asystole of the heart due to increased vagal responsiveness. They are non-epileptic.


A wide spectrum of phenomena may resemble epileptic seizures, which may lead to people who do not have epilepsy being misdiagnosed. Indeed, a significant percentage of people diagnosed with epilepsy later have this revised. In one study, the majority of children referred to a secondary clinic with "fits, faints and funny turns" did not have epilepsy, with syncope (fainting) as the most common alternative.[2] In another study, 39% of children referred to a tertiary epilepsy centre did not have epilepsy, with staring episodes in mentally retarded children as the most common alternative.[3] In adults, the figures are similar, with one study reporting a 26% rate of misdiagnosis.[4]


The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) define an epileptic seizure as "a transient occurrence of signs and/or symptoms due to abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain."[5] Epileptic seizures can occur in someone who does not have epilepsy – as a consequence of head injury, drugs, toxins, eclampsia or febrile convulsions, for example.

Medically, when used on its own, the term seizure implies an epileptic seizure. The lay use of this word can also include sudden attacks of illness, loss of control, spasm or stroke.[5] Where the physician is uncertain as to the diagnosis, the medical term paroxysmal event and the lay terms spells, funny turns or attacks may be used.


The various pathophysiological causes include:



  1. Joseph H. Ricker (ed), ed. (2003). Differential Diagnosis in Adult Neuropsychological Assessment. Springer Publishing Company. p. 109. ISBN 0-8261-1665-5. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  2. Hindley D, Ali A, Robson C (2006). "Diagnoses made in a secondary care "fits, faints, and funny turns" clinic". Arch Dis Child. 91 (3): 214–8. PMID 16492885. (Free full text online)
  3. Uldall P, Alving J, Hansen LK, Kibaek M, Buchholt J (2006). "The misdiagnosis of epilepsy in children admitted to a tertiary epilepsy centre with paroxysmal events". Arch Dis Child. 91 (3): 219–21. PMID 16492886. (Free full text online)
  4. Smith D, Defalla BA, Chadwick DW (1999). "The misdiagnosis of epilepsy and the management of refractory epilepsy in a specialist clinic". QJM. 92 (1): 15–23. PMID 10209668. (Free full text online)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Fisher R, van Emde Boas W, Blume W, Elger C, Genton P, Lee P, Engel J (2005). "Epileptic seizures and epilepsy: definitions proposed by the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE)". Epilepsia. 46 (4): 470–2. PMID 15816939. (Free full text online).
  6. Nechay A, Ross LM, Stephenson JB, O'Regan M (2004). "Gratification disorder ("infantile masturbation"): a review". Arch Dis Child. 89 (3): 225–6. PMID 14977696.

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