Nonepileptic seizures: an updated review

CNS Spectr. 2016 Jun;21(3):239-46. doi: 10.1017/S109285291600002X. Epub 2016 Mar 21.


Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are a functional neurological disorder/conversion disorder subtype, which are neurobehavioral conditions at the interface of neurology and psychiatry. Significant advancements over the past decade have been made in the diagnosis, management, and neurobiological understanding of PNES. This article reviews published PNES research focusing on semiologic features that distinguish PNES from epileptic seizures, consensus diagnostic criteria, the intersection of PNES and other comorbidities, neurobiological studies, evidence-based treatment interventions, and outcome studies. Epidemiology and healthcare utilization studies highlight a continued unmet medical need in the comprehensive care of PNES. Consensus guidelines for diagnostic certainty are based on clinical history, semiology of witnessed typical event(s), and EEG findings. While certain semiologic features may aid in the diagnosis of PNES, the gold standard remains capturing a typical event on video electroencephalography (EEG) showing the absence of epileptiform activity with history and semiology consistent with PNES. Medical-neurologic and psychiatric comorbidities are prevalent in PNES; these should be assessed in diagnostic evaluations and integrated into treatment interventions and prognostic considerations. Several studies, including a pilot, multicenter, randomized clinical trial, have now demonstrated that a cognitive behavioral therapy-informed psychotherapy is an efficacious treatment for PNES, and additional efforts are necessary to evaluate the utility of pharmacologic and other psychotherapy treatments. Neuroimaging studies, while requiring replication, suggest that PNES may occur in the context of alterations within and across sensorimotor, emotion regulation/processing, cognitive control, and multimodal integration brain systems. Future research could investigate similarities and differences between PNES and other somatic symptom disorders.

Keywords: cognitive behavioral therapy; conversion disorder; fMRI; functional neurological disorder; neuroimaging; psychogenic nonepileptic seizures; sertraline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Conversion Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Conversion Disorder / psychology
  • Conversion Disorder / therapy
  • Electroencephalography
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Seizures / physiopathology*
  • Seizures / psychology
  • Seizures / therapy
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Sertraline / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Sertraline