Can Stress Cause Seizures?

Julie Kirk
Depressed young woman crying

Stress does have the ability to trigger seizures. While it is difficult to foresee when a seizure may occur, there are things you can do to help prevent or decrease the chances of a seizure happening.

How Stress Can Trigger a Seizure

Seizures are usually associated with epilepsy, however there are seizures that are non-epileptic as well. The non-epileptic seizures are often misdiagnosed as epileptic seizures. They are actually psychogenic in nature which means it originates from psychological factors. They are also referred to as pseudoseizures. Even though the meaning of "pseudo" is false/fake, these types of seizures are very real events.

Stressors

When stress triggers a psychogenic, non-epileptic seizure, it is typically caused by emotional distress or some type of psychological problem or stressor. The stress grows to extreme measures, and the body reacts by having a seizure. Examples of these triggers include:

What Are the Symptoms of a Seizure?

The symptoms of epileptic and non-epileptic seizures are very similar and it is difficult to differentiate which type of seizure has occurred until further diagnostic testing is performed. The duration of the symptoms can last from 30 seconds to two minutes, however, if a seizure lasts five minutes or so, you should call 911. Symptoms of seizures may include:

  • Jerky body and limb movements
  • Body becomes limp
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Biting the tongue
  • Clenching teeth
  • Frothing at the mouth or drooling
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Confusion
  • Displaying unusual behavior
  • Feeling unusual sensations
  • Making unusual noises
  • Staring episodes
  • Loss of awareness
  • Change in mood
  • May fall to the ground
  • May lose control of bladder or bowel
Female doctor assisting a senior woman

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic, neurological disorder in which recurrent seizures occur due to abnormal electrical activity of the brain. Approximately one percent of people in the United States are diagnosed with epilepsy and it can affect anyone of all ages. While there are a number of different causes of epilepsy such as brain injury, brain inflammation, abnormal brain development, illness, and infection, the cause is actually unknown for more than half of the patients diagnosed with epilepsy. There are various types of epilepsy syndromes and types of seizures. Once the type of seizure is classified, your doctor will be able to move forward with a plan for treatment.

Epilepsy and Stress-Induced Seizures

Stress is known to be a trigger for epileptic seizures. It can also increase the intensity and how often the seizures happen. However, it has yet to be determined why this happens. One recent study has shown that using methods to manage or decrease stress can be helpful in reducing epileptic seizures.

Diagnosing Seizures

There are a number of tests that can be performed to correctly diagnose your type of seizures. This will enable your doctor to recommend the most effective treatment for you and your condition. The following are tests your doctor may perform or order:

Neurological Exam

This exam is performed by your doctor and will test your mental and behavioral capabilities as well as your motor skills.

MRI or CT Scan

This type of diagnostic imaging exam will check the brain for abnormalities such as a tumor, a bleed on the brain, lesions on the brain, a blocked artery or a cyst that could be the potential cause of the seizures.

Nurse reviewing digital brain scan at CT scanner in hospital

EEG (Electroencephalogram)

With this test, you will wear electrodes attached to your head that will record and measure your brain waves. If you are experiencing non-epileptic seizures, your EEG will not show abnormal electrical activity in the brain as it would for epileptic seizures. This is the best test to determine if you're having epileptic or non-epileptic seizures and it will help diagnose the different types of epilepsy as well.

Blood Tests

Blood tests may be ordered to check for any genetic conditions that may be contributing to the seizures. The doctor may also look for an underlying disease or cause and check your blood sugar levels for diabetes or check to see if your electrolytes are imbalanced.

Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture)

A spinal tap may be performed to test a sample of cerebrospinal fluid in order to rule out infection.

Treatment Options

In order for your doctor to start treatment, you will need to have at least two seizures. The types of treatment for non-epileptic seizures that he may recommend include:

Psychotherapy/Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Typically, psychotherapy is the treatment used for non-epileptic seizures. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be part of the treatment. This type of therapy can help determine the link between how a person thinks or feels and their actions or behavior.

Medication

Epilepsy is usually treated with anti-seizure medication, however, non-epileptic seizures will not respond to that type of medication. For non-epileptic seizures, the only type of medication that may be used in your treatment plan would be the one prescribed if you have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. For epileptic seizures there are additional treatment options, including ketogenic diet, surgery, and vagus nerve stimulation.

Methods to Relieve Stress

Learning relaxation techniques and methods of stress reduction can help reduce the effects stress has on your body and your mind. While not every method is effective for everyone, understanding different techniques can help you find one that works for you.

  • Practicing yoga to relax muscle tension and focus the mind.
  • Meditation is a wonderful way to relax your mind
  • Deep breathing exercises are a quick and effective way to reduce stress and can be done almost anywhere and at any time.
  • Visualization or guided relaxation techniques.
  • Setting aside time for a favorite hobby gives you a break from the stress of daily life.
  • Acupressure and acupuncture techniques.
  • Aromatherapy treatments with scented candles, oils, or other aromas, perhaps combined with massage or meditation.
  • Affirmations of the positive aspects of your life and personality and other positive thinking techniques.
  • Whether you love working out at the gym, taking a brisk walk, or playing a game of tennis, exercise is a natural stress reliever.
Serene woman meditating at home

Treatment and Stress Reduction

Incorporating stress reduction and relaxation techniques with your treatment can be an excellent way to reduce stress and help seizures become less frequent. However, before starting any regimen of relaxation techniques or stress reduction methods, be sure to consult your doctor first.

Can Stress Cause Seizures?