Psychodynamics and psychiatric diagnoses of pseudoseizure subjects

Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Jan;153(1):57-63. doi: 10.1176/ajp.153.1.57.


Objective: The goal of this study was to determine current and lifetime rates of DSM-III-R disorders in patients with pseudoseizures and to ascertain whether trauma is associated with the occurrence of pseudoseizures.

Methods: Adult pseudoseizure patients (N = 45) were interviewed regarding seizure course and life events, and they were given the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R--Patient Version, the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R Dissociative Disorders, the Dissociative Experiences Scale, and the Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire--Revised. The pseudoseizures were diagnosed in a tertiary-care video-EEG facility. Most of the subjects (78%) were female, and the mean age of the overall patient group was 37.5 years (SD = 9.7).

Results: The mean duration of the subjects' seizure history was 8.3 years (SD = 8.0). Common current psychiatric diagnoses included somatoform disorders (89%), dissociative disorders (91%), affective disorders (64%), personality disorders (62%), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (49%), and other anxiety disorders (47%). The lifetime occurrence of nonseizure conversion disorders was 82%. The mean Dissociative Experiences Scale score was 20.2 (SD = 18.2). Trauma was reported by 84% of the subjects: sexual abuse by 67%, physical abuse by 67%, and other traumas by 73%.

Conclusions: Pseudoseizure subjects have high rates of the psychiatric disorders found in traumatized groups; they closely resemble patients with dissociative disorders. Reclassification of conversion seizures with the dissociative disorders should be considered. Pseudoseizures often appear to express distress related to abuse reports. Clinicians should screen pseudoseizure patients for adult and childhood trauma, dissociative disorders, depression, and PTSD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Conversion Disorder / classification
  • Conversion Disorder / diagnosis
  • Conversion Disorder / epidemiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Dissociative Disorders / classification
  • Dissociative Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Dissociative Disorders / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Seizures / classification
  • Seizures / diagnosis*
  • Seizures / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders / classification
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis