Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures--definition, etiology, treatment and prognostic issues: a critical review

Seizure. 2009 Oct;18(8):543-53. doi: 10.1016/j.seizure.2009.06.006. Epub 2009 Aug 13.


In this review we systematically assess our currently available knowledge about psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) with an emphasis on the psychological mechanisms that underlie PNES, possibilities for psychological treatment as well as prognosis. Relevant studies were identified by searching the electronic databases. Case reports were not considered. 93 papers were identified; 65 of which were studies. An open non-randomized design, comparing patients with PNES to patients with epilepsy is the dominant design. A working definition for PNES is proposed. With respect to psychological etiology, a heterogeneous set of factors have been identified. Not all factors have a similar impact, though. On the basis of this review we propose a model with several factors that may interact in both the development and prolongation of PNES. These factors involve psychological etiology, vulnerability, shaping, as well as triggering and prolongation factors. A necessary first step of intervention in patients with PNES seems to be explaining the diagnosis with care. Although the evidence for the efficacy of additional treatment strategies is limited, variants of cognitive (behavioural) therapy showed to be the preferred type of treatment for most patients. The exact choice of treatment should be based on individual differences in the underlying factors. Outcome can be measured in terms of seizure occurrence (frequency, severity), but other measures might be of greater importance for the patient. Prognosis is unclear but studies consistently report that 1/3rd to 1/4th of the patients become chronic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic / statistics & numerical data
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Epilepsy* / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy* / etiology
  • Epilepsy* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders* / etiology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders* / therapy
  • Seizures* / diagnosis
  • Seizures* / etiology
  • Seizures* / therapy
  • Video Recording / methods