Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: review and update

Epilepsy Behav. 2003 Jun;4(3):205-16. doi: 10.1016/s1525-5050(03)00104-5.


The population incidence of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) may be only 4% that of epilepsy, but many patients with PNES have a tendency to seek medical attention, and PNES make up a larger share of the workload of neurologists and emergency and general physicians. Although a great number of publications describe how PNES can be distinguished from epileptic seizures, it usually takes several years to arrive at this diagnosis, and three-quarters of patients (with no additional epilepsy) are treated with anticonvulsants initially. However, the management of PNES as epileptic seizures can lead to significant iatrogenic harm. Moreover, the failure to recognize the psychological cause of the disorder detracts from addressing associated psychopathology and enhances secondary somatization processes. This review provides an overview of studies of the diagnosis, etiology, treatment, and prognosis of PNES. Physicians should always consider PNES in the differential diagnosis of a seizure disorder. If a diagnosis of PNES is possible, or a diagnosis of epilepsy in doubt, a clear diagnostic categorization should be sought. This should involve the assessment of the patient by a physician versed in the diagnosis of seizure disorders and, in many cases, the documentation of a typical seizure by video-EEG. Outcome may be improved if the diagnosis is more actively sought, made earlier, and communicated more convincingly.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis*
  • Epilepsy / etiology*
  • Epilepsy / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / psychology
  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Anticonvulsants