Is it Epilepsy or Anxiety? You Might Be Surprised

Anxiety Can Lead to Epilepsy Symptoms

Almost everyone experiences anxiety to some degree throughout their lives. A major presentation, worries about an unexpectedly high bill, fears about the well-being of family and friends — all of these are normal, manageable emotions that most people are able to handle without major difficulties.

Some people, though, have more significant issues with anxiety and stress — issues that can cause serious health issues. When you aren’t able to respond to or manage stress effectively, not only are you susceptible to disturbances in sleep and appetite, but you could experience a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Not only does uncontrolled stress contribute to high blood pressure, it also causes your body to release excess hormones that the liver processes into cholesterol, which will build up on your artery walls and contribute to heart disease.

However, excess stress can also cause serious reactions in your brain. Scientists have discovered that high levels of stress can actually cause symptoms that mimic those of other serious conditions, including epilepsy. It might seem difficult to believe, but extreme stress can actually cause seizures, giving us even more proof that the brain plays a vital role in our overall health and well-being.

Understanding Epilepsy

One of the most common causes of seizures is epilepsy. Epilepsy is a condition in which one has seizures triggered by irritation or “over activity” in the brain; essentially, the nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed and causes everything from a blank stare for a few moments to a full body seizure marked by uncontrollable twitching of the arms and legs and apparent loss of consciousness.

Most people with epilepsy are diagnosed after having at least two unprovoked seizures, or seizures that do not seem to have any apparent assignable cause. Because seizures are unpredictable, most epileptics take anti-seizure medications from Canadian pharmacies and face restrictions on certain activities, including driving. There is no cure, and while some epileptics “outgrow” the disease by their early 20s, for most people, it’s a lifelong condition.

The Epilepsy Foundation notes that as many as 2.2 million Americans are living with epilepsy, and as many as one in 26 people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives. However, research from Johns Hopkins University indicates that perhaps the number of epileptics is significantly lower — and that many people diagnosed with the condition aren’t epileptic after all.

A Different Type of Seizure

Many people assume that seizures are automatically epileptic, or otherwise caused by some outside factor, such as a high fever or reaction to medication. However, there is another type of seizure that’s common in adults: A PNES, or psychogenic non-epileptic seizure.

When someone experiences an epileptic seizure, it’s unpredictable and not directly attributable to a specific cause and due to abnormal brain activity. A PNES, on the other hand, is usually a specific physical response to a stressful situation. Essentially, when someone has a PNES his or her brain effectively “shuts down” as a means of avoiding the stressful situation. It’s a coping mechanism that isn’t really coping at all.

Doctors determined that anxiety and stress can lead to seizures by comparing the coping mechanisms and attitudes toward stress among epileptic patients, patients with PNES and a control group with no history of seizures. What they found is the group with PNES seizures were 83 percent more likely to have seizures when faced with threatening or disturbing thoughts, situations or emotions.

Perhaps more importantly, those subjects who had stress-induced seizures didn’t necessarily have more stressful life experiences than those who didn’t, but instead had higher levels of perceived stress and less effective coping mechanisms. For example, many of these patients had high levels of denial and were less likely to seek help managing their stress.

Managing PNES

Another fact that the researchers discovered in their tests is that many of the patients suffering from PNES were actually taking anti-seizure medications to control their condition — and the medications weren’t working, because the brain functions in epileptic seizures are very different from those in PNES. In other words, many people were diagnosed with epilepsy, even though they don’t really have the disease.

Doctors suggest that the new information regarding seizures makes it vitally important to address psychological factors in patients experiencing seizures, especially adults having them for the first time. Discussing the patient’s stress and anxiety, responses to stressors and beliefs about stress may provide clues to the real cause of the condition. In those cases, instead of anti-seizure medication, therapies designed to provide more effective and healthy strategies for coping with stress and anxiety may be more appropriate. Of course, if you have epilepsy it’s important to take your medication as your doctor directs.

In addition, it’s important for adults to develop healthy ways to cope with stress and manage their emotions effectively. Exercise, getting enough sleep and knowing when to get help for your issues can go a long way toward keeping emotions in check and preventing more serious health issues — including debilitating and frightening seizures.