The experience of earthquakes by patients with epileptic and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures

Epilepsia. 2002 Mar;43(3):317-20. doi: 10.1046/j.1528-1157.2002.41801.x.


Purpose: We sought to understand better the experience of seizures by studying differences in the subjective experience of being in an earthquake between patients with epileptic (EP) and nonepileptic (NES) seizures.

Methods: Forty-eight patients with CCTV/EEG-documented EP or NES who were in the Seattle metropolitan area during the February 28, 2001 Nisqually earthquake were randomly selected for telephone interviews on their earthquake experiences, including whether they thought they were having a seizure during the event.

Results: Twenty-three percent of EP patients spontaneously volunteered that they initially thought they were having a seizure during the earthquake as compared with none of the NES individuals (p = 0.03). However, 35% of EP and 23% of NES patients thought they were having a seizure during it when asked directly (p = 0.37). The most common reasons given, regardless of seizure type, were shaking and feelings of losing control. Of those responding negatively, 100% of EP and 47% of NES patients said that movement of their environment indicated that it was not a seizure (p = 0.001). EP patients took an average of 42 s to realize that the earthquake was not a seizure compared with 105 s for the NES group (p = 0.06). The earthquake precipitated seizures in both groups (11.5% EP, 9.1% NES).

Conclusions: EP patients were more likely to mistake the earthquake spontaneously for a seizure. This indicates these two experiences are similar and provides a glimpse into the subjective experience of a seizure for those who have never had one but have experienced an earthquake.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disasters*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Seizures / physiopathology*
  • Seizures / psychology*