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Dogs may be responding to psychological seizures, not epileptic seizures - research

23 January, 2007

According to two
new studies published in the journal Neurology,
in some cases seizure alert dogs responded to seizures caused by
psychological conditions rather than by epilepsy. The researchers have
suggested people who request a seizure alert dog may need to be
screened for psychogenic seizures.

"People
with psychogenic seizures need psychiatric evaluation and appropriate
treatment, not a specially trained dog for epileptic seizures," said
study author Gregory L. Krauss, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

"This
is important because the treatment is very different for a person with
epilepsy and one with psychological seizures, which stem from emotional
difficulties," said Krauss. "Epilepsy drugs are not effective for
psychological seizures, and they often have side effects. And with
proper treatment and counseling, psychological seizures can often be
eliminated."

Researchers monitored seven people with seizure alert dogs. Most were monitored with video electroencephalogram (EEG) tests to track seizures and electrical activity in the brain.

For
four of the people, unlike people with epilepsy, there was no abnormal
electrical activity during seizures, and they were diagnosed with
psychological seizures. Another person did not have the EEG test, but
was also diagnosed with psychological seizures.

"Seizure
response dogs can help people during seizures and stay by them when
they are unconscious and provide companionship that aids them in
dealing with a chronic disorder," Krauss said.

"People
with non-epileptic seizures require psychiatric evaluation and behavior
therapy. This study demonstrates the importance of establishing an
accurate diagnosis of epilepsy before obtaining a seizure response dog."

Study
author Dr. Michael J. Doherty of the Swedish Epilepsy Center in
Seattle, Washington, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology,
said the findings raise several questions that need to be further
investigated. "If dogs can predict psychological seizures, could the
seizures be a conditioned response to stereotypical dog behaviors?"

"Does having a seizure alert dog lead people to have psychological
seizures more or less often? Given the cost of training seizure alert
dogs, should people requesting one be screened for psychological
seizures?"