How is it diagnosed?

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Dissociative seizures are diagnosed by a doctor who takes a detailed history of the attacks.

Doctors will enquire about the type of attack, and may get a history from both you and people who have seen the attacks (family, friends, colleagues).

Sometimes a diagnosis of dissociative seizures can be made without further investigations. A detailed description of the dissociative seizures can be enough for a doctor to recognise it. 

Doctors who make this diagnosis are typically highly trained and have trained for many years to be able to tell the difference between dissociative seizures and epileptic seizures.

If needed, doctors may carry out different tests. The tests may include:

  • A brain wave test (called an EEG)

In dissociative seizures, the brain wave recordings during attacks will be normal as compared to abnormal brain wave recordings in people with epilepsy.

  • A brain scan (either CT and MRI)

Your doctor may ask your family and friends to take home videos on a mobile phone as these can be helpful.

Occasionally, people may need to be admitted to hospital for the attacks to be seen and the diagnosis to be made.

Often, it may take a long time, even years, to arrive at the correct diagnosis because at times doctors may have thought it was epilepsy at first.

Meeting a specialist doctor and revisiting the diagnosis may be required to arrive at the correct diagnosis.


Why was I told I had epilepsy?

Dissociative seizures are often mistaken at first for epilepsy. This is because to an untrained eye they both look very similar.

Even doctors and nurses may find it hard at first to distinguish between dissociative seizures and epileptic seizures. This means that dissociative seizures may be difficult to diagnose, and people may wait several years to get the correct diagnosis.

Dissociative seizures are diagnosed by a doctor taking a detailed history of the episodes, supported by tests.

Tests may include head scans (MRI and CT) or brain wave tests (EEG).

The doctor distinguishes between epilepsy and dissociative seizures by reviewing the history of the symptoms, home videos and any additional investigations (CT, MRI, EEG) . The doctor will use the information to make the correct diagnosis.   

Getting the correct diagnosis of dissociative seizures will help make sure the correct advice and treatment is given.

How can I be sure this is the right diagnosis?

Although attacks of dissociative seizures (non-epileptic attack disorder) look like epilepsy, specialists in treatment of seizures are able to tell them apart. 

The doctor may use detailed descriptions of the attacks, home videos, brain wave tests (EEG), brain scans  (CT and MRI) to reach the diagnosis.

The brain waves (EEG)  stay normal in dissociative seizures but are abnormal in epileptic seizures. 

Doctors can tell the difference between dissociative seizures and epilepsy by examining the type of movements, duration and frequency of attacks, as well as what happens before and after the attacks.

It can be difficult to understand to the diagnosis especially if you have been told you had epilepsy in the past.

What are the tests?

Taking a detailed history of the attacks can often be enough to make the diagnosis of dissociative seizures (non-epileptic attack disorder).

Sometimes people may need investigations to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes for their symptoms. The investigations may includes CT and MRI scans, EEG, and ECG