How are epilepsy and PTSD diagnosed and treated?

  • November 11, 2020
  • 3
In this article

Armed conflict can leave physical and psychological scars - and many veterans experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) long after they have returned from the war. One symptom of this disorder is PTSD seizures.

Let's look at the link between seizures, epilepsy and PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder experienced by people who have lived through extremely stressful events. It is estimated that as much as 30% of the US military have experienced PTSD as a result of traumatic experiences while serving their country.

PTSD can produce a wide variety of symptoms including:

  • Flashbacks
  • Mood changes
  • Sleeping problems
  • Blacking out 
  • PTSD seizures

Can PTSD cause seizures?

Yes, PTSD can cause people to have seizures. If you or someone you know has served in the military and experienced traumatic events you may have seizure symptoms. There are two possible causes of PTSD seizures:

  • Epilepsy and PTSD

Epilepsy is a condition where unusual electrical activity in the brain causes people to pass out, shake or behave in unusual ways - we call this having a seizure. A major cause of epilepsy is head injuries. Head injuries experienced while on duty could cause scarring on the brain, and this may mean an individual begins having epileptic seizures.    

  • PNES and PTSD

Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) are a form of attack that looks like an epileptic seizure but is not caused by unusual electrical patterns in the brain. Instead, PNES has a psychological cause. People with PNES cannot control their behavior and it may cause them to shake, jerk or black out.

Seizure diagnosis and treatment for veterans

If you, or a veteran you know, appears to be having seizures, it is very important to visit an epilepsy specialist who can figure out what is causing the behavior. Unfortunately many veterans are incorrectly diagnosed with epilepsy and take anti epileptic drugs to treat PNES seizures, when in fact these medications will not help them.

To diagnose the cause of seizures among veterans, an epilepsy specialist will:

  • Use an EEG machine to scan the brain for unusual electrical patterns
  • Use an MRI machine to locate damage in the brain
  • Take a medical history
  • It can also be useful to provide videos or statements from people who have seen your seizures

This information can then help the doctor diagnose whether your seizures are caused by epilepsy or if they have a psychological root.

Similar read: Military veteran Nikki's experience of PTSD & epilepsy

Epilepsy and PTSD treatment

Depending on the cause of your seizures, your doctor will provide different treatments:

  • Epilepsy: epilepsy can be treated using a variety of drugs and medical devices. In some cases it can also be treated with surgery.
  • PNES: psychogenic non-epileptic seizures are often treated using therapy, although drugs are also sometimes used. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has high success rates in helping people who have experienced trauma to manage the feelings that these events cause and constructively move on with their lives.

Remembering our veterans

Military personnel take enormous personal risks when serving their country. Furthermore, many veterans live with the scars of their experiences long after they have returned home, including epilepsy caused by brain injury and PTSD seizures. And this is why it is so important to remember their sacrifices every 11th of November.

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