A woman keeping her hand oh her head because of anxiety. A woman keeping her hand oh her head because of anxiety.

Can Anxiety Cause Seizures: 10 Things to Know About

The human body has a response system that reacts differently in every situation. The human body has mechanisms to deal with the situation and external factors. Similarly, there is a human body response called anxiety. Anxiety occurs when the human mind and body deal with a stressful condition. In short, anxiety can be defined as an anticipation of the human body against a stressful situation. Can anxiety cause seizures?

In some cases, anxiety reaches the next level affecting the nervous system of the body to a great extent that results in seizing. Doctors may relate anxiety disorder with seizures; however, there is no direct connection between the two.

Scientists and doctors are trying hard to find a link between anxiety and seizing in humans. But there is no direct link found between the two.

But this link seems so complex that the doctors fail to catch it. The research shows that there can be two possibilities, anxiety can result in seizing or seizing can cause anxiety. Hence, when a person experiences his first seizure, he must consult a doctor.

A woman covering her face with her hands and wearing a black hoodie with Panic Attack written on the hooded cap.
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1. What Is Anxiety?

Simply put, it can be defined as the human body’s response to a stressful condition. It often fades away when they are over their stress.

However, a person can feel uneasy or stressed out even if there isn’t anything to worry about. This condition is called having an anxiety disorder. Looking at the statistics, almost 20% of Americans face anxiety problems annually. It is the most common mental health issue in the USA. Another link can be observed between epilepsy 1and anxiety. Every 4 people out of 10 with epilepsy experience anxiety.

Anxiety can affect people of any age, gender, or region.

2. What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Sometimes people feel anxious in normal situations, which is called anxiety disorder. It can be diagnosed if the human body depicts the following symptoms:

  • Constant worry
  • Fatigue
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Feeling of depression
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Mood Swings
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Dry throat
  • Dizziness or Numbness
  • Muscle Tension
  • Repeated or automatic movements
  • Twitches
  • Blank Stares
A woman sitting on the floor while keeping her hands on her chest and suffering from anxiety.
Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash Copyrights 2021

3. What Are Seizures?

A seizure is a short period of span with uncontrolled electrical activity in the Central Nervous System (CNS2), causing temporary abnormalities. Seizing usually occurs in epilepsy.

These seizing can cause symptoms that can be noticed, or there can be no symptoms. An epileptic seizure3 can be triggered by stress, panic attack, and anxiety.

Epilepsy is a medical condition when the activity of the central nervous system (CNS) becomes abnormal, leading to unusual behavior, seizing, and sometimes loss of sensation. Epilepsy may be genetic or can occur due to injuries like a shock or trauma.

Epilepsy can be treated by medication, changing eating habits, and sometimes surgery. An epileptic seizure can occur due to sleeplessness, stress, and alcohol consumption. But can anxiety cause seizures?

The common symptom of a seizure is shivering in the patient’s body, but in some cases, the symptoms are not the same. The body becomes stiff, limbs jerk, and breathing becomes difficult. In case of epileptic seizing, the patient might need the help of mental health professional.

3.1. Types of Seizures

There are two seizure types:

  1. Generalized Seizures- This type of seizing affects the activity of both parts of the brain.
  2. Focal seizures- This kind of seizure has partial effects on the brain, limited to one part of the brain. The patient might lose consciousness.

However, sometimes one might experience non-epileptic seizures because of panic attacks and stress. This condition is called a Psychogenic non-epileptic seizure (PNES4).

4. Epileptic Seizures

A woman helping a man suffering from epileptic seizure,
Photo by DCStudio on Unlimphotos

Epilepsy is one of the dissociative disorders affecting the central nervous system in which a person loses control over his brain’s activity and body movements for some time.

The most common symptom of the epileptic disorder is experiencing a seizure. Seizing occurs when the electronic activity inside the brain gets disturbed.

Epilepsy is commonly caused by abnormal brain activity resulting from a brain injury, shock, chronic stress, or trauma. But in half of the cases, the cause is unknown, making it difficult for the doctor to decide on the medications and line of treatment.

The first seizure can be ignored, but further seizures are a matter of concern. Here are the underlying conditions and associated factors that might trigger epileptic seizing:

4.1. Missed Medications

When taking antiepileptic drugs5, he cannot miss any dose as it might lead to severe consequences. Missing a dose is the primary reason why people with controlled seizures experience one suddenly.

The seizing can be intense and more gradual. It might also lead to long seizing, which is termed Status Epilepticus.

4.2. Inadequate Sleep

Everyone needs to get good sleep, but it becomes a compulsion in the case of epilepsy patients. Their mind needs complete rest. If there is a change in lifestyle or hormones, it can trigger a seizure.

Hence, most of the time, the patients experience seizures while asleep.

4.3. Stress or Anxiety Disorder

The underlying cause of seizures is stress. And when a person stresses over anything without a specific reason, they are said to have an anxiety disorder. And in case of increased stress levels, the chances of seizing increase.

Hence, if you are stressed, talk your heart out to someone, whether your friend, family, or physician. The accumulation of stress inside the mind and body can lead to severe health issues requiring special care units.

4.4. Alcohol

Intake of alcohol in small amounts does not usually cause seizing. However, epilepsy medications lower the body’s tolerance to alcohol. Hence, drinking alcohol might trigger seizing.

4.5. Menstruation

Women suffering from epilepsy disorder tend to experience more seizing around the date of their periods. At this time, the level of hormones in the body increases, directly affecting the brain.

4.6. Light

Seizing can occur because of continuous light flashing in about 3 % of people with epilepsy.

4.7. Others

Sometimes, nutritional deficiency, supplements, or herbal medicines can trigger seizing in the patient.

5. Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES)

An illustration of non-epileptic seizure trigger
Photo by Bambara on Unlimphotos

Psychogenic 6non-epileptic seizures are not the same that occurs due to uncontrolled electrical impulses in the Central Nervous System (CNS) in the case of epilepsy. Can anxiety cause seizures?

PNES symptoms are the extreme response to anxiety. According to the doctors, this is a psychiatric mental health issue.

PNES is a functional neurological disorder caused by emotional stress, and a person can experience stress.

5.1. PNES Symptoms

  • Lack of awareness
  • Thrashing
  • Headache
  • Biting of tongue
  • Lose control of body
  • Sidewise head movement
  • Muscle contractions
  • Fluttering of eyes
  • Memory issues
  • Crying

Symptoms of PNES and epileptic seizures might appear to be the same, but there is a difference. The symptoms of Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures appear more gradually and long-lasting than epileptic seizures.

5.2. Diagnosis of PNES

Can anxiety cause seizures? If people experience panic attacks based on physical symptoms and gradual occurrence, it might be possible that they are suffering from psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. However, some tests confirm whether the person is suffering from epilepsy or PNES:

5.2.1. Video Electroencephalography (VEEG)

The doctor connects the patient’s body with an Electeoencephaloghapy machine and a monitoring system. After monitoring the brain’s electrical activity, the doctor can conclude the diagnosis of epilepsy or PNES.

5.2.2. Seizure Analysis

If the patient has seizures but no unusual brain activity, there is a high chance of PNES.

5.2.3. CT or MRI

Sometimes to conclude the PNES or epilepsy diagnosis, the healthcare professional suggests taking the patient for MRI or CT scans.

5.2.4. Psychological Testing

To get a systematic review, the patient has to undergo psychological testing for the correct diagnosis and to find out the common seizure trigger.

A person throwing the boxes related to stress and anxiety.
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5.3. PNES Treatments

While treating a patient, the patient’s narratives are documented, including his name, age, gender, medical history, symptoms, medications, and other details.

PNES is psychological. Hence it can be treated with the following treatment options:

5.3.1. Medications

Since the seizure is not neurological but psychological, antiepileptic drugs are ineffective in PNES. Instead, the healthcare professional may prescribe the intake of Selective serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

These medicines reduce anxiety and seizure. A study shows that SSRIs are more effective when taken along with psychotherapy sessions.

5.3.2. Lifestyle Changes

There is a large effect of what people eat and do on their health condition and treating anxiety. Following the below-mentioned steps, one can easily cure his PNES:

  1. Adequate sleep
  2. Balanced diet
  3. Exercises
  4. Yoga or Meditation

5.3.3. Psychotherapy

The first line of treatment for PNES includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The therapy helps you to understand the psychological conditions and helps you in managing stress, feelings, and behavior.

6. Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes indicating anxiety-induced seizures. The anxiety symptoms are:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Chills
  • Hot Flashes
  • Numbness in limbs
  • Sharp Chest Pain
  • A feeling of disconnection from reality and yourself

An anxiety attack, or panic attack, is not a cause for neurological seizing without epilepsy. However, there is a correlation between panic symptoms and Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.

7. How Are PNES and Panic Disorder Different?

Both PNES and panic attacks can be a result of stress or anxiety. But they are different in terms of the period and frequency of seizure.

Panic attacks are sudden and might last for about 10 minutes. Sometimes the person experiencing seizures or panic attacks might have some control over brain function.

On the other hand, in the case of PNES, seizing can be long-lasting and more gradual than panic attacks.

8. Can Anxiety Cause Seizures?

If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, there is a high chance that stress and anxiety can trigger seizing in a person. It might be obvious to link anxiety with epileptic seizing, but the link between the two is still not confirmed.

Sometimes people start to feel stressed after being diagnosed with epilepsy. However, on the other hand, stress and anxiety can also trigger seizing in patients. Can anxiety cause seizures?

In some cases, the medicines taken to treat tremors lead to the release of some chemicals in the nerves, which can also make the patient feel stressed.

A study shows that people experiencing partial seizures are more likely to have stress attacks. However, it cannot be the ideal situation for all patients with epilepsy.

The trigger that induces panic attacks in the patients is called seizure precipitant. These triggers might be stress, trauma, memory, or related incident in personal meaning.

9. Epilepsy Center

Observing the 1.2% of the population affected with epileptic disorder, The National Association of Epilepsy Centers was formed. Even in about 30 out of 100 patients, epileptic convulsions cannot be controlled with medications.

Hence to study the cases to provide patients with world-class treatment and observations, the NAEC has been established.

The evaluation begins with EEG monitors to record the convulsions to confirm that the patient suffers from an epileptic disorder. This evaluation gives an outlook on the degree to which epilepsy has affected the Central Nervous System of a person.

The evaluation helps to understand the appropriate line of treatment, medications, and therapy sessions to be given to the patient. However, the doctor or physician might conduct more tests to evaluate the impact on the patient’s health, thinking, ability to decide, heart condition, concentration, and willpower.

It is also important to understand that along with the patient, their family also suffers a lot in caring for the person. They are also under stress while taking care of the patient. They also need to give themselves some time and take care.

9.1. Why Should People Visit an Epilepsy Center?

Do not put down all your guard while suffering from any disease or disorder. Fighting the situation and the condition for yourself and your loved ones is a must.

Sometimes, when people are diagnosed with a disease or disorder, they accept it as their fate and settle for the condition. An individual should not do that. He needs to stand up and fight against it.

In the same direction, NAEC is there to help you increase your quality of life. Earlier, the patients and the physicians had to settle for less because basic medications were inadequate to control the epileptic convulsions. But nowadays, many therapies and medicines are there to opt for.

It is necessary to have the correct diagnosis of epileptic convulsions. Some patients take so much stress that they develop a lack of immunity. They do not even know the degree to which the disorder has affected them. NAEC helps them to learn more about their condition.

The statistics show that the patients sent to NAEC for exact diagnosis and treatment do not have an epileptic disorder. They are suffering from PNES. They take their stress and panic attacks as epileptic disorders. On average, it takes them 7 to 10 years to come to know that, in reality, they never had an epileptic disorder.

It could have been stopped or prevented if they had visited the right place for the right diagnosis of their ailment. So many years of taking medications, surgeries, and therapies were wasted.

What To Do If Someone Has A Seizure - First Aid Training - St John Ambulance

In this context, the patients who needed help had to wait long to access the resources to know the root cause of their disorder.

10. How Can You Get the Right Diagnosis at the Right Time?

People must be aware of the disease or disorder they are diagnosed with. Collect authentic information about the symptoms and treatments and consult the physician.

In the row for the same, the American Academy of Neurology has published guidelines to help the patient they can receive guidance and the right help at the right time.

The study reports that in most cases, the patients consider panic attacks due to stress to be an epileptic disorder. This is when our mind also triggers our body to develop the same symptoms. Hence, consult the physician first to get the correct guidance.

End Note

In today’s stressful environment, it is common to have panic attacks and stress. But it is also important to understand that every panic attack is not a symptom of an epileptic seizure.

Can anxiety cause seizures? Yes, sometimes anxiety can result in seizures, but it is not always a symptom of an epileptic disorder. These panic attacks can be treated with medicines and therapies.

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  4. Kerr, Wesley T., and John M. Stern. “We need a functioning name for PNES: consider dissociative seizures.” Epilepsy & Behavior 105 (2020). ↩︎
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  6. Asadi-Pooya, Ali A., et al. “Terminology for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: making the case for “functional seizures”.” Epilepsy & Behavior 104 (2020): 106895. ↩︎

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