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, 3 (1), 66-72

Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures Among Patients With Functional Neurological Disorder: A Case Series From a Tanzanian Referral Hospital and Literature Review


Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures Among Patients With Functional Neurological Disorder: A Case Series From a Tanzanian Referral Hospital and Literature Review

Marieke C J Dekker et al. Epilepsia Open.


Objective: Functional neurological disorders (FNDs) and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are likely as common in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as in the rest of the world, but there is a dearth of literature on the epidemiology and clinical presentation of these disorders in Africa. The purpose of this paper is to describe a case series of FNDs presenting to a referral hospital in SSA. In addition, we review the existing literature on FNDs in Africa.

Methods: A hospital-based retrospective cross-sectional study was conducted to determine the prevalence, epidemiology, and clinical phenotype of FNDs and PNES in a referral hospital in Northern Tanzania over a 6-year period (2007-2013).

Results: Of 2,040 patients presenting with neurological complaints, 44 (2.2%) were diagnosed with FNDs. Half (n = 22) had the clinical presentation of PNES. Age of presentation for FNDs and PNES peaked in the teen years 12-19 (n = 21 48%; and n = 14, 63%, respectively), and the majority were female (n = 30, 68%; and n = 14, 63%, respectively). The majority presented acutely with short-lived and self-limiting symptoms (only 2 recurrent cases). Literature review revealed multiple reports of "mass hysteria" in SSA often meeting the clinical criteria of epidemic FNDs.

Significance: FNDs and PNES occur in Africa with age and gender distribution comparable to that found elsewhere. Although the percentage of FND cases overall was relatively low (2.2%), it is likely to be an underestimate because not all cases were recorded, and cases may be appropriately managed locally before patients are referred to a hospital. PNES was the most common phenotype of FNDs reported, and the African phenotype may be short-lived and self-limiting rather than chronic and recurrent, as reported elsewhere in the world. PNES presentations may also occur in clusters, which may have cultural significance in Africa. FNDs in Africa appear to be underreported, particularly over the last 30 years.

Keywords: Africa; Epilepsy; Functional neurological disorder; Psychogenic nonepileptic seizure; Tanzania.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Neurological Disorders in Northern Tanzania, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre 2007–2013 (n = 2,040), W. Howlett, unpublished data.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Functional Neurological Disorders in Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre 2007–2013 (n = 44), W. Howlett, unpublished data.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (n = 22), age distribution.

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