Improving first responders' psychogenic nonepileptic seizures diagnosis accuracy: Development and validation of a 6-item bedside diagnostic tool

Epilepsy Behav. 2016 Jan:54:40-6. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2015.10.025. Epub 2015 Nov 29.


Objective: Epileptic seizures (ES) are often seen as a medical emergency, and their immediate and accurate recognition are pivotal in providing acute care. However, a number of clinical situations may mimic ES, potentially leading to misdiagnosis at the emergency room and to inappropriate prescription of antiepileptic drugs (AED) in the acute and chronic settings. Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) play a major role in this scenario and often delay the correct diagnosis and increase treatment morbidity and cost. First responders often conduct the initial assessment of these patients, and their impression may be decisive in the prehospital approach to seizures. We sought to investigate and improve the accuracy of PNES diagnosis among professionals involved in the initial assistance to patients with seizures.

Methods: Fifty-three registered nurses, 34 emergency physicians, 33 senior year medical students, and 12 neurology residents took a short training program consisting of an initial video-based seizure assessment test (pretest), immediately followed by a 30-minute presentation of a 6-item bedside diagnostic tool and then a video-based reassessment (posttest). Baseline status and learning curves were determined.

Results: The distinct professional categories showed no significant differences in their ability to diagnose PNES on both pretests and posttests. All groups improved diagnostic skills after the instructional program.

Significance: The findings helped determine the best identifiable PNES clinical signs and to provide initial validation to a novel diagnostic instrument. In addition, our results showed that educational measures might help in the identification of PNES by first responders, which may decrease the treatment gap.

Keywords: Nonepileptic attacks; Nonepileptic seizures; Seizure semiology; Seizures; Video-electroencephalography.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurology
  • Physicians
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Seizures / diagnosis*
  • Seizures / psychology
  • Students, Medical
  • Young Adult