[What the patient's history tells us about their nonepileptic seizures]

Neurophysiol Clin. 2014 Oct;44(4):375-88. doi: 10.1016/j.neucli.2013.09.002. Epub 2013 Oct 10.
[Article in French]


The aetiology of "psychogenic" non-epileptic seizures (NES) remains poorly understood and the differentiation of NES from epilepsy can be a difficult. In the first part of this review article we focus on recent insights into the neurobiological underpinnings of NES. We summarise a number of studies demonstrating the importance of abnormalities of emotion regulation in patients with NES. Evidence for abnormal emotion regulation comes from both self-report and experimental studies of pre-conscious cognitive processes. These studies show that NES are not the only manifestation of abnormal mental processing in these patients and that excessive social threat avoidance and emotional dysregulation are also evident between seizures and may therefore contribute to disability beyond the seizures themselves. In the second part of this review, we describe the findings of a number of studies, which have examined differences between the communication behaviour of patients with NES and those with epilepsy. We argue, that, whilst these studies initially aimed to help clinicians with the differential diagnosis of NES and epilepsy, close sociolinguistic analysis of patient's talk can also provide clues about the aetiology of NES. We conclude that the interaction of patient with NES with the doctor can be interpreted as a manifestation of avoidance and a demonstration of helplessness perhaps intended to secure active support from the doctor. In the third part of this review, we suggest that a close reading of a transcript of the interaction between a patient with NES and her doctor (and perhaps attentive listening to how patients' talk about themselves and their disorder) can yield clues to the causes of NES in individual cases.

Keywords: Aetiology; Analyse conversationnelle; Conversation analysis; Crises non épileptiques psychogènes; Diagnostic différentiel; Differential diagnosis; Epilepsy; Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures; Épilepsie; Étiologie.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Seizures / diagnosis*
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Seizures / physiopathology