February 4, 2022

Anxiety and seizures: Here’s what you need to know

Lifestyle & Wellness

It is very common for people with epilepsy to experience anxiety. Find out about anxiety and seizures, diagnosis and ideas for coping.

Anxiety is a perfectly normal response to a stressful situation, and it often goes away when the problem has passed. People can sometimes feel excessively anxious - even when there is no obvious danger. This is known as an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the USA - almost 20% of Americans experience anxiety problems each year. Anxiety is particularly common for people with epilepsy - four people in 10 with epilepsy have an anxiety disorder.

Here is everything you need to know about anxiety and seizures.

Man looking anxious about seizures

What is an anxiety disorder?

While feeling anxious is perfectly normal during stressful periods, sometimes people can feel anxious most - or even all - of the time. Anxiety disorders can cause many different kinds of symptoms:

Mind

  • Constantly feeling worried
  • Tiredness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor sleep
  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling easily annoyed

 Body

  • Fast or irregular heartbeats
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes
  • Feeling sick or dizzy

Can anxiety cause seizures?

Maybe. If you have been diagnosed with epilepsy, intense feelings of anxiety could become a seizure trigger for you. Anxiety makes you feel stressed, and stress is widely believed to be a major cause of epileptic seizures. 

Learn more: 7 common seizure triggers

Anxiety and seizures: a complex relationship

It is very common for people with epilepsy to experience psychiatric disorders such as anxiety. There are several ways that anxiety and seizures feed into one another, and the exact relationship between the two is not always clear:

  • Anxiety after epilepsy diagnosis: People often feel anxious when they are diagnosed with a new medical condition.
  • Fear of seizures: Seizures are highly stressful – and unpredictable - events. Not knowing when they might ‘strike’ can cause people to worry.
  • Anxiety induced seizures: Feeling highly stressed is generally seen as a trigger for epileptic seizures. Feeling anxious increases stress levels and could therefore induce a seizure.
  • Anxiety after seizures: It is also common for people to feel intense feelings of anxiety in the aftermath of a seizure. This could be because of chemicals released in the brain during the seizure. But it could also be related to social factors (people might feel embarrassed of losing control in front of others).
  • Anti-seizure medication side effects: Some anti-seizure medications can cause people to feel anxious.
  • Epilepsy syndrome and anxiety: Research suggests that people with certain kinds of epilepsy (particularly temporal and frontal lobe epilepsies) are more likely to have anxiety disorders - although anyone can have them.

Panic attack / anxiety or seizure?

A panic attack or anxiety attack is an extreme form of anxiety that causes severe physical reactions. These can include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling and shaking, headaches, dizziness, hot flashes and chills. They are accompanied with a feeling of intense fear.

Many of these symptoms can appear similar to epileptic seizures. However a panic attack is not the same as an epileptic seizure (seizures are caused by unusual electrical discharges in the brain).

If you are unsure if you are having panic attacks / anxiety or seizures it is important to seek medical help.

Related: The difference between epileptic and dissociative seizures

Anxiety and seizures treatment

If you notice that you are feeling highly anxious over a period of two weeks or more and there is no specific cause of the feelings, speak with your doctor. There are various treatments for people with epilepsy who have anxiety disorders, including:

  • Counseling
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Medication

There are also several things you can do to treat yourself. These include talking about your worries with friends and family, going to epilepsy support groups, and using self-calming techniques - such as breathing methods, physical exercise and things like yoga.

Anxiety can feel overwhelming. But remember, it is treatable and with the right support you can overcome these feelings of panic and fear.