Objective: There have been few treatment trials for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES). Some psychotherapies have been shown to improve PNES and comorbid symptom outcomes. We evaluated a pharmacologic intervention to test the hypothesis that sertraline would reduce PNES.
Methods: We conducted a pilot, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial in an academic medical hospital with epilepsy center outpatients. Subjects aged 18 to 65 years diagnosed with video-EEG-confirmed PNES were treated with flexible-dose sertraline or placebo over 12 weeks. Seizure calendars and symptom scales were charted prospectively. Secondary outcome measures included psychiatric symptom scales and psychosocial variables.
Results: Thirty-eight subjects enrolled, and 26 (68%) completed the trial. Thirty-three subjects with nonzero nonepileptic seizure rates at baseline were included in intent-to-treat analysis of the primary outcome. Subjects assigned to the sertraline arm experienced a 45% reduction in seizure rates from baseline to final visit (p = 0.03) vs an 8% increase in placebo (p = 0.78). Secondary outcome scales revealed no significant between-group differences in change scores from baseline to final visit, after adjustment for differences at baseline.
Conclusions: PNES were reduced in patients treated with a serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor, whereas those treated with placebo slightly increased. This study provides feasibility data for a larger-scale study.
Level of evidence: This study provides Class II evidence that flexible-dose sertraline up to a maximum dose of 200 mg is associated with a nonsignificant reduction in PNES rate compared with a placebo control arm (risk ratio 0.51, 95% confidence interval 0.25-1.05, p = 0.29), adjusting for differences at baseline.