Podcast #314: Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) - The Emergency Medical Minute

Podcast #314: Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES)

Author: Gretchen Hinson, M.D.

Educational Pearls:


  • PNES vs. epilepsy: postictal state is diagnostic of an epileptic seizure (sonorous respirations and/or confusion, lasting typically 20-30 minutes); Epileptiform seizures show decrease in convulsion frequency, but increase in convulsion amplitude while PNES convulsions demonstrate episodic convulsion amplitudes; and epileptiform seizures usually do not pause.
  • PNES is a form of conversion disorder and can be associated with underlying personality disorder; however there are patients with epilepsy that also can have PNES which complicates the diagnosis and treatment. 
  • Patients that are malingering may have flailing movements and might talk during the episodes – both not typical of epileptic seizures or PNES.
  • Treatment for PNES is with psychotropic medications and psychotherapy as opposed to antiepileptic medications



Avbersek, A; Sisodiya, S. (2010). Does the primary literature provide support for clinical signs used to distinguish psychogenic nonepileptic seizures from epileptic seizures?.  Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry. 81(7):719-25.

Devinsky, O; Gazzola, D; LaFrance, W. Curt (2011). Differentiating between nonepileptic and epileptic seizures. Nature Reviews. Neurology. 7 (4): 210–220.

Lesser, RP. (2003). Treatment and Outcome of Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures. Epilepsy Currents. 3(6):198-200. doi:10.1046/j.1535-7597.2003.03601.x.

Pillaia, JA; Hautab SR. (2012). Patients with epilepsy and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures: An inpatient video-EEG monitoring study. Seizure. 21(1): 24-27.

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