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Dissociative seizures

Is this page for me?

You may find this information useful if you:

  • Have just been diagnosed with dissociative seizures
  • Have been told for years you have epilepsy and you’re now being told the diagnosis was wrong. And that you have dissociative seizures instead
  • Have been told that you have epilepsy and dissociative seizures
  • Are waiting for a diagnosis
  • Are wanting to understand and support someone who has been diagnosed with dissociative seizures

Other names for dissociative seizures

Dissociative seizures have a lot of different names:  We have chosen the name used in the International Classification of Diseases. Lots of people are unhappy to have a diagnosis that is ‘not’ something. But the other names are not that easy to understand. You will know which name you prefer.

  • Non-epileptic attack disorder (NEAD)
  • Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures
  • Psychogenic seizures
  • Pseudoseizures
  • Functional seizures

Whichever name you recognise, this information is for you.

How are dissociative seizures diagnosed?

Dissociative seizures are often mistaken for epilepsy. They can be difficult to diagnose. In fact it can take several years after someone starts having seizures for them to get an accurate diagnosis of dissociative seizures. Even experienced doctors can find diagnosing dissociative seizures a challenge. 

It’s very important to get the right diagnosis. This is because if you’re given a wrong diagnosis of epilepsy, the doctor will probably prescribe you epilepsy medicines. These can have side-effects and will not control your seizures. Being on these medicines also means that the true cause of your seizures may never be investigated.

If you don’t have good seizure control you may be referred to a specialist epilepsy centre for assessment. You could have a type of epilepsy that doesn’t respond well to epilepsy medicines. This is sometimes called intractable or refractory epilepsy. Or you could have dissociative seizures and that’s the reason why you aren’t responding to epilepsy medicines.

Some people have epilepsy and dissociative seizures.

How can you tell the difference between epilepsy and dissociative seizures?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between an epileptic seizure and a dissociative seizure. You can’t usually tell by looking, whether someone is having an epileptic or a dissociative seizure, if you’re not an expert in this field.

One of the ways in which a professional will tell the difference between dissociative seizures and epilepsy, is from an electroencephalogram (EEG). This picks up and records the electrical activity in the brain. If someone is having an epileptic seizure, an EEG will usually show abnormal electrical activity. If someone is having a dissociative seizure, an EEG will not show abnormal electrical activity.

The doctor may also suggest using video-telemetry. This involves you wearing EEG equipment for a few days, and being observed by a video camera linked to the EEG machine. This makes it possible for any seizures you have to be recorded on video and EEG at the same time.

Epilepsy Action has more information about video-telemetry

What makes dissociative seizures happen?

Dissociative seizures happen for psychological reasons rather than physical ones. The psychological reasons could include thoughts, feelings, and present and past experiences. This is different from epilepsy. Epileptic seizures happen because of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

I have just been told I have dissociative seizures. What do I do now?

It can be really tough to be told you have dissociative seizures. This is especially true if you’ve spent years thinking you have epilepsy, and you’ve been trying to adapt to that. It’s quite usual for it to take time to believe the new diagnosis. Also, if you’re not told carefully, it can sound like the doctor is saying you don’t have a real health condition, or that you are ‘putting it on.’ This is not true. Dissociative seizures are a real medical condition. And the dissociative seizures you experience can be just as disruptive and unsettling as epileptic seizures. You’ll need the support of friends, family and medical people during this time of adjustment.

What is the treatment for dissociative seizures?

If you have dissociative seizures, epilepsy medicine won’t work for you. But don’t stop taking the medicine suddenly because this may be dangerous for you. Your doctor will tell you the right speed to do this at. Often just getting a correct diagnosis and understanding a bit more about your seizures can mean that they start to happen less often. 

This is a quote from a specialist that might help:
“You didn’t bring the attacks on, but you can help yourself to get better.”

If seizures don’t stop once you have your diagnosis, a number of more specialist treatments may be offered to you:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
  • Counselling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Anti-depressants

NHS Choices has information on counselling, CBT and psychotherapy

You may feel you’ve been dismissed with no offer of treatment. If so, go and talk to your GP and make sure they understand you do need treatment to help you manage your seizures. The sooner you do this the better, because if you are offered therapy, you may need to go on a waiting list. Whichever therapy you are offered, it will ideally be with someone who also understands about dissociative seizures. Your neurologist or epilepsy nurse may be able to recommend someone.

For more tips on how to manage your dissociative seizures see the non-epileptic attack disorder website.

What first aid do I need?

This is what someone needs to do if they see you having a seizure.


  • Cushion your head
  • Move any harmful objects away from you
  • Be calm and reassuring
  • Call an ambulance if they don’t know if you have epilepsy or dissociative seizures


  • Call an ambulance unless you are injured or they don’t know about your condition
  • Restrain you in any way
  • Try to give you any medicine

 Dissociative seizures are not dangerous and do not cause damage to the brain. The only reason someone would need to call an ambulance is if you injured yourself. Dissociative seizures often go on longer than epileptic seizures.

Where can I get more information and support?

This website has been set up by people with non-epileptic attack disorder (NEAD) to provide information and support for those with NEAD/dissociative seizures and their family and friends. The medical information has been checked and approved by a medical advisor, Professor Markus Reuber, who specialises in non-epileptic attack disorder/dissociative seizures. It has a wide range of very useful information.

As well as a wide range of information, the website includes a leaflet which you can download. You are also invited to send in your account of life with NEAD.
There are also a number of groups for people with dissociative seizures on Facebook.

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. Please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Markus Reuber, Consultant Neurologist and Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Academic Neurology Unit of the Royal Hallamshire hospital, for his contribution to this information.

Dr Reuber has no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated September 2015
    To be reviewed September 2018

Comments: read the 22 comments or add yours


I have just come back from the inquest of my son who died on 3/12/13 he was having none eperlectic sezures fo past 2 year doctors never helped him just gave him antidepresents he was found dead after falling in a stream he got out and his heart stopped it feel doctors let him down they said he died of natural causes but I don't understand as he was healthy apart from the sizures that we're taking his life over carol

Submitted by Carol gwinnutt on

I was told I had NEAD from a neurologist even though I had abnormalities they couldn't explain. When I went to a bigger hospital that's well know they told me in fact I have epilespy and gave me keppra. I haven't had a seizure since I got this medicine except once or twice. Is it possible to be misdiagnosed with NEAD? Do you know how likely it is if possible?

Submitted by Meleah on

Hi Meleah

Thanks for your question. Sounds like a confusing and difficult situation. But it’s good to learn things have started to improve for you.

NEAD can be difficult to diagnose, even by experienced doctors. It’s possible to be misdiagnosed with NEAD but we don’t have any figures, you may find such information on the NEAD website http://www.nonepilepticattacks.info/.    

NEAD is often mistaken for epilepsy. It’s also possible to have both NEAD and epilepsy. The fact that you feel the Keppra is helping could be an indication that your seizures are epilepsy related. It would be best to talk to your epilepsy specialist or epilepsy nurse for specifics about your diagnosis.                                                                                                                                                                        


Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Sacha-Epilepsy ... on

My 15 year old child has just been diagnosed with Nead. Southampton General Hospital diagnosed her. They did this by looking at her fit. There was no ecg testing. (sorry if I am getting the terminology wrong - this is new to me). She has a scoliosis and has for many years complained of a bad back. She used to go to the Southampton Scoliosis clinic until she was 12 years old and then her consultant died. The new consultant took her off their list and it has been said to my by the doctors in Poole Hospital that they did this in error. In the last year she has started to have terrible spasms. These increased and in September she was admitted to hospital with 12 - 14 hour spasms. As nead suffers Im sure you know and understand the horror of these spasms. We then found out that her curve had got worse and we were refered back to Southampton Clinic who only now have given us a date to be seen in February next year. She has been mislead throughout the process and has become increasingly depressed and her spasams have worsened. I can see partly because of the frustration of 'no one listening' or 'understanding' her. Her life has been stollen away with no urgency on the part of the NHS. Has anyone else only been diagnosed on just a viewing (15mins) at bedside during a fit? She is now in hospital and she is a mess. Please help me. I have no problems with Private messages. I wont friend you though, I hope you understand. Thank you. If you think you can help me then please do.

Submitted by Cathy Cheyne on

Dear Cathy

I am sorry to hear what a hard time your daughter is having.

We do have some basic information on non-epileptic seizures, as I’m guessing you’ve seen. And at the bottom of our web pages is a link to a site which specialises in non-epileptic seizures.

As you will see from our information the most reliable way to distinguish between epileptic and non-epileptic seizures is with video-telemetry. But some non-epileptic seizures are so unusual that it may be possible for a professional to make a diagnosis after seeing a single seizure.

You may be interested in looking at some research on spinal myoclonus. This is a condition which can be cause by damage to the neck. We don’t know about more about this condition but came across it while doing some research.

The important thing, whatever her diagnosis, is that she gets appropriate treatment or support with this. I do hope this happens for her soon.


Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry-Epilepsy... on

hi for the last 2 year my daughter has been taking epileptic drugs,she is 14 years in feb 2013 she had a abnormal eeg told she has epilepsy,started meds,then in may 2013 she had a video eeg told she had non epileptic seizures on a friday told to reduce her meds then on the monday got a call to say they got it wrong she has both that the video eeg was abnormal,now a year an a half on they are saying non epileptic seizure again reduce meds but keeped her on lamictal in case she has a seizure just dont no what to think anymore form them

Submitted by ann fitzpatrick on

Hi Ann

Thanks for your comment. That sounds like a really frustrating and confusing situation. It is entirely possible to have epileptic and non-epileptic seizures.

The best way to be sure about whether a seizure is epileptic or non-epileptic is to have video-telemetry. I am not completely sure whether your daughter has had this done.

If not, or if it didn’t give enough information before, I would strongly suggest asking for it to happen.

If your daughter still has the same neurologist as made the mistake before, you might want to talk to your GP about getting a second opinion.

I hope that helps.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry@Epilepsy... on

she had a video-telemetry. done that they said was normal on the friday then i got a call on the monday to say it was abnormal and they said she had both now a another doctor is saying that it was normal after a year and a half but in feb 2013 she did have an abnormal one and put on meds,she was on epilim and lamictal at the time of the video-telemetry. its all a mess now the school said they cant let her into the school because they need to no whats going on,the dr that said this has put in the letter no midazolam,tranfer to hospital,or medical intervention,but i cant understand it all myself because she takes different types of turns,and how are they ment to no the differents between them

Submitted by ann fitzpatrick on

Hi Ann

You raise lots of issues and I think we could help you most be speaking with you, rather than trying to help you on the website. If you would like to do that, please contact the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050, and we will talk about your daughters situation with you.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

I had a nocturnal grand mal suizure, then had another nocturnal one eight months later. I have been in a stressful relationship and also had some very stressful problems in the family. The family issues were a few ago however. No family history of epilepsy and MRi came back negative. All blood and other test negative too. Do not smoke or even drink alcohol. A friend of mines wife has epilepsy and has said he believes mine are non epilectic. My main question is can you really have a NOCTURNAL grand mal non epilectic suizure ? I am 47 years old and never had any head injuries throughout my life either.
Many thanks and kind regards in advance.

Submitted by martin on

Hi Martin

Thanks for your question. It’s possible to have any type of seizure during sleep. Non-epileptic seizures can be very difficult to diagnose, best done by a qualified specialist.

For most people with epilepsy the cause is never known. You don’t need a family history with epilepsy, a head injury, to be a smoker, or a drinker to be diagnosed with epilepsy. Also, tests results are often inconclusive. Epilepsy specialists make a diagnoses based mainly on symptoms.

If you think you may have NEAD, it’s best to talk to your epilepsy specialist or epilepsy nurse. The treatment for NEAD is not the same as for epilepsy. Epilepsy medicines do not help with non-epileptic seizures, and could make things worse.

The most reliable way to confirm whether someone is having an epileptic or non-epileptic seizure is by having a video-telemetry test. Your neurologist may decide this would help.

I hope things start to improve for you soon.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Sacha, Epilepsy... on

I have had seizure since october this year. I have struggled in the padt with my mental health and I am mortified to find out I have nead. I struggling to cope with the diagnosis and feel hopeless. I spent 12 days in hospital having upto 4 seizures a day and has now caused me to suffer so bad with sciatica that I am on crutches. I am scared to go back to work in fear of having seizures there and to ehat they are going to think about me when they read about this disorder. I just dont know what to do.
Im waiting to get an appointment to start psychotherapy jusy hope I can get the support sooner rather than later.

Submitted by Bridie on

Hi Bridie

It can be difficult coming to terms with a diagnosis of NEAD. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable with your diagnosis. It’s a real health condition. And the attacks you experience with NEAD can be just as disruptive and unsettling as epileptic seizures. You will still need the support from your friends, family, work and medical team.

If you haven’t already, visit the Non-Epileptic Attacks website. Hopefully you will find it both helpful and encouraging.

Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

Hi - I was at a private wedding party last night and I had 3 glasses of wine over the evening. The floor was wet and I slipped and banged my head. when I got up I felt really dizzy and went to sit down. My husband said that I fell off the chair to the floor and I started to fit. This happened to me once before about a year ago when I pranged my car. I was taken to hospital and when I became lucid I was told I had a pseudo-fit. I can't believe the fuss I have caused and the fact that I was taken to hospital and now I feel terrible about it. My head still hurts from where I banged it but there is no bump. I think the pseudo-fit was brought about because I had physically hurt myself on each ocassion. I am worried it will happen again. When I became lucid the nurse suggested it was because I had 'a night on the town'. At 56 years I certainly was not having a 'night on the town'. I feel incredibly embarrassed this morning because it has been implied that I was doing it on purpose. I wish to reassure you that this was the last thing that i wold have wanted to happen. I feel sore all over and my head still hurts from the bang. I am really, really worried that this may happen again. I am not stressed or depressed and in general I have good health and keep myself fit and eat a good diet. Do you have any advice for me to avoid all this fuss that I caused again please? I want to apologise to the hospital and friends for what happened but I don't know how to - especially now that I have researched what a pseudo-fit is and that I brought this on myself...

Submitted by Gina on

Hi Gina
It can be really tough to be diagnosed with non-epileptic seizures. But they are a genuine condition needing clear diagnosis and treatment. People who have non-epileptic seizures are not ‘putting them on’.

So you certainly don’t need to apologise to anyone for them because you would not have been in a position to stop them.

But you do need a definite diagnosis and a discussion about possible treatment.

Here is all our information about non-epileptic seizures. https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/diagnosis/non-epileptic-attack-disorder-nead

This gives you an idea of what should be happening for you.

I hope you are able to get the support you need to deal with these.

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry Epilepsy... on

hi I have had nead for 4 years now they say that the 3 still births triggered them and the fact that I can't have anymore children but I am not on any medication for them or seeing anyone the people I did see said they couldn't help me and discharged me so I have been left to deal with them I have between 1-2 a day I don't go out a lone as I have no warning when I am about to have on I have nearly drowned in the bath fallen down the stairs a few times if it weren't for my husband I would be dead I really need help

Submitted by toni Dinan on

"Non-epileptic attacks happen for psychological reasons rather than physical ones." If the brain and mind are the same physical entity, then this distinction may fit all medical textbooks, but it is not logical.

Submitted by Researcher on


Thanks for your comment.

What we are saying is epilepsy is due to electrical activity that is happening in our brain. An epileptic seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. With NEAD there is not this activity.

Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

Hi I am a little confused here. When you say pseudo fit are you saying that is a non tonic clonic fit. Can somebody who is diagnosed with NEAD walk around and have orientation to their surroundings ? During one of these episodes ? Thanks

Submitted by drayklah on

Hi Draklah

We’re not experts on non-epileptic seizures. But we have certainly spoken to people diagnosed with NEAD who have remained conscious during a seizure.

However it is possible to have an epileptic seizure such as a focal seizure, where, although your consciousness would be altered, it would still be possible to walk around.

I hope that helps.

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

I had 2 ' blackouts' 6 months apart and went to my GP just after the second one as my left leg felt strange and I mentioned the blackouts. I had to stop driving on GP advise and saw neurologist and had MRI eeg and ecg nothing shows up but diagnosed as suspicious for seizures and I have been discharged but put on Lamotrigine . That was a year ago .and I have not taken the medication at all. I feel nothing has been taken into account that I had 5 family members including my Mother and my Husband die within a 2 year period just 12 months before the first ' blackout' and I looked after 3 of them and also had to pay for 2 funerals. Recently I arranged bereavement counselling for myself and found it to be very helpful. Now however I have hit a problem I have applied for my driving licence back and am worried my GP will inform them I am not taking the medication. I am a young 70 and very active and normally well. What are your thoughts please

Submitted by fran turner on

Hi Fran

Thanks for your message. I’m sorry to hear you lost so many family members in such a short period of time. That must have been incredibly tough for you. I’m glad to hear the bereavement counselling has helped.

It is possible that not following your neurologist’s advice could stop you getting your driving licence back. In the UK, when you reapply for your licence you need to complete the medical questionnaire FEP1. On this you need to give details of any medications you take for the condition, with the dates of when you started and stopped them. You also need to sign a declaration confirming that you agree to follow your doctor’s advice about any treatment for epilepsy. It is a criminal offence to make a false declaration to obtain a driving licence. So if you told the DVLA that you were following your doctor’s advice, and they found out that you weren’t, it’s likely you would have your licence revoked and you could be prosecuted and fined. You might find it helps to read our information about driving and epilepsy.

Only you can decide how open to be with your GP. But if they think you’re taking lamotrigine when you’re not, they won’t have a full picture of your medical situation. This could cause problems if you need medical treatment in the future. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if the doctors believe you are taking lamotrigine and that this is controlling your seizures, they could see this as confirmation that you have epilepsy. If you are honest with your doctor and let them know that you have been seizure free without medication, they may agree that you don’t need to take it.

I hope this information helps you come to a decision about what to do next. If you have any further questions or would like to talk anything through, feel free to contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline.

Best wishes
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Grace, Epilepsy... on