Epilepsy Talk

If You DON’T Have Epilepsy, Then WHAT Is It??? | November 13, 2016

You might call them “imitators” of epilepsy, but that’s kind of extreme. You might say “similar” or you might say “confused”, which I think they are.

In a previous article titled “Conditions Commonly Misdiagnosed as Epilepsy” https://epilepsytalk.com/2010/02/17/conditions-commonly-misdiagnosed-as-epilepsy/ I thought I had it all covered.

* First Seizures

* Febrile Seizures

* Nonepileptic Seizure Disorder (NESD)

* Eclampsia

* Meningitis

* Encephalitis

* Migraine

* Sleep Disorders

* Brain Injury

* Cardiac Disorders

* TIAs

* Mental Health

* Failed Drug Therapy.

But, believe it or not, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

I dug deeper and researched further and here is what I learned about signs and signals which might cause epilepsy, might show the same symptoms of epilepsy, or might be masquerading in their own way as epilepsy…


Tumors can cause epileptic seizures.

According to Cornell University, some brain tumors can cause seizures over a prolonged period without causing other symptoms; such tumors are usually slow growing, benign lesions.

Brain tumors that can cause epileptic seizures include glial tumors, glioneuronal tumors and other tumors of the temporal lobe.

Cornell University states that glial tumors, such as astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas, develop from brain cells known as glia that surround neurons or nerve cells, and that glial tumors are categorized as fast-growing or slow-growing.

Slow-growing glial tumors account for up to 70 percent of tumors that cause epilepsy.

Glioneuronal tumors, such as gangliogliomas and dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial, or DNT tumors, are a combination of glial and neuronal cells, and they often cause partial seizures.

Other tumors in the brain’s temporal lobe, especially ones that affect a person’s hippocampus and amygdala — two important brain structures — can also produce epileptic seizures.


The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, or NINDS — a division of the National Institutes of Health — states that the brain’s attempts to repair itself following a traumatic head injury, stroke or other problem can inadvertently produce aberrant nerve connections that cause epileptic seizures.

Stroke, heart attacks and other conditions that starve the brain of oxygen may cause epilepsy in some cases.

According to the organization Stroke Awareness For Everyone, or SAFE, one of the many after-effects of stroke is the onset of epileptic-like seizures or recurrent seizures.

Among older individuals who develop seizures for the first time, stroke is often the underlying cause.

SAFE notes that stroke-related seizures are usually the result of hemorrhages in which blood squirts out of an artery into brain tissue.

The pressure of the blood tears the brain tissue as it creates a space for itself outside the artery.


According to Epilepsy Ontario, approximately 1 percent of children in industrialized nations experience a central nervous system, or CNS, infection by the age of 10, and those children that survive the infection have a 5 to 10 percent greater likelihood of developing epilepsy.

Epilepsy Ontario states that a child’s risk for epilepsy does not depend on the age at which the infection occurs, but it does vary based on the cause of the infection.

Possible sources of CNS infection include aseptic meningitis, bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis and brain abscesses.

According to Epilepsy Ontario, approximately 5 percent of people will have one or more infection-related seizures during a CNS infection, and those who have infection-related seizures have a greater risk of developing epilepsy later in life.


Syncope (fainting), a brief lapse of consciousness in which blood flow to the brain is temporarily reduced, can mimic epilepsy.

It is often misdiagnosed as a seizure. Patients with syncope do not have the rhythmic contracting and then relaxing of the body’s muscles.

Panic Attacks

In some patients, partial seizures may resemble a panic disorder.

Symptoms of panic disorder include palpitations, sweating, trembling, sensation of breathlessness, chest pain, feeling of choking, nausea, faintness, chills or flushes, fear of losing control, and fear of dying.


Narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes a sudden loss of muscle tone and excessive daytime sleepiness, can be confused with epilepsy.


Early malnutrition can lead to neuronal deficit, with cognitive alterations and growth and developmental disorders in experimental models, possibly causing more susceptibility to seizures.

Apparently, malnutrition is not a direct cause of epilepsy, but it can decrease the threshold to seizure.


A condition in which blood sugar (glucose) levels are abnormally low.

It is a serious condition because the body uses glucose for fuel, and when levels are too low, many organ systems (particularly the brain and nervous system) malfunction.

Not every seizure is epilepsy.

Those that are due to other conditions such as a high fever in an infant, brain infections, or alcohol or drug withdrawal may not be called epilepsy.

Some symptoms that look like a seizure are actually caused by problems in other parts of the body.

Fainting, migraine headaches, narcolepsy, drug use, mental illness, heart conditions and many other medical problems can cause symptoms similar to a seizure.

Any condition that affects the brain has the potential to cause a seizure.

Genuine causes of seizures (but not necessarily epilepsy) can include:

Abnormal levels of sodium or glucose in the blood

Brain injury (such as stroke or a head injury)

Brain problems that occur before birth (congenital brain defects)

Brain injury that occurs to the baby during labor or childbirth

Phenylketonuria (PKU), which can cause seizures in infants

Brain tumor or bleeding in the brain

Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease

High fever

Illnesses that cause the brain to deteriorate

Infections that affect the brain, such as meningitis, encephalitis, neurosyphilis, or AIDS

Kidney or liver failure

Use of illegal street drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines

Withdrawal from alcohol after drinking a lot on most days

Withdrawal from certain drugs, including some painkillers and sleeping pills

This includes head injury, abnormal brain development, lack of oxygen during birth, brain tumors, strokes, diseases of the heart and it’s blood supply, toxins such as lead poisoning, infections, diseases of the brain and nerves, and disorders of the body’s chemistry.

Epilepsy is also associated with other disorders like autism, TB, and cerebral palsy.

This is one reason why the disease is often difficult to diagnose and why, for some, it remains such a confusing disease.

In short (not to sound like a cliche), things are seldom what they seem. And a good diagnostion is worth his/her weight in gold.

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  1. Very interesting. It is worth mentioning non epileptic attack disorder / functional neurological disorder which is also a confusing diagnosis

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by sharonrossblog — November 13, 2016 @ 12:28 PM

  2. VERY excellent point. Thank you Sharon.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 13, 2016 @ 1:00 PM

  3. I,m told I,m non epileptic, is there a differce.


    Comment by michele metzger — November 13, 2016 @ 1:10 PM

  4. Phylis,,,, Have you ever heard of people having parasites in the brain, that causes seizures ? If so I would like to read about this on E T post here. One doctor told me, that from all the contaminated & toxic foods on the market in the world today, that people will eat daily, there is not but maybe 1% of the total population that has NO parasites in the body & brain. So 99% of us are toxic humans living on earth.


    Comment by craig davis — November 13, 2016 @ 2:04 PM

  5. I attended a lecture last year presented by a well-known epileptologist in my state. He said epilepsy used to be considered a lifelong condition, but not anymore.

    Also, if you ever watched the TV show, “House, M.D.,” there was always somebody having a seizure, and it was hardly ever caused by epilepsy, but by some other condition the patient had.


    Comment by Martha — November 13, 2016 @ 4:59 PM

    • Oh Martha, did you ever seen the “House” episode where the lady had a seizure and landed in the laundry tub where nobody could find her?

      Sigh. How convenient epilepsy is.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 13, 2016 @ 9:38 PM

      • I thought I had seen all the episodes of “House,” but don’t remember that one. I’ll look for it. But that TV show should have gone a long way to dispel some of the “stigma” surrounding epilepsy. Seizures are so often caused by something else.


        Comment by Martha — November 13, 2016 @ 10:24 PM

  6. Very interesting. My seizures that I have are a blank stare. Which I believe was caused by taking carbamazepine for too long. Started a new med. that has just been out for a little time. Working wonders for me. I was only having these seizures once every 6 months if that. So not sure why this was happening to me. I believe it was due to my low sodium!


    Comment by Teresa — November 13, 2016 @ 6:21 PM

    • Or maybe absence seizures?

      (Absence Seizure — previously called petit mal seizures:

      Frequent, brief events, 5-30 seconds, with abrupt onset, impairment of consciousness, and staring followed by an abrupt return to baseline function.)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 13, 2016 @ 9:54 PM

  7. I also think it can be a combination of several perfectly legal but physically harmful things we do to ourselves such as sugar, caffeine, stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, bad diet, etc. At some point the brain reaches the last straw and the seizure threshold is crossed.

    My first seizure was after an all-nighter study session in college with pots of coffee and stacks of chocolate bars.

    One time I was in the ER (for an unrelated injury) and the girl in the bed next to me had been out all night clubbing while alternating chugging “energy drinks” and shots. She was shaking and had a racing heart rate and thought she was having seizures.

    The problem about these incidents is that there is not one clear cause at which to point the finger. It’s cumulative.


    Comment by paleobird — November 13, 2016 @ 6:29 PM

    • I agree completely Paleobird.

      But energy drinks strike a sore spot with me.

      Epilepsy and Energy Drinks – Think Before You Drink!


      Energy drinks are right up there with poison in my dictionary.

      Meanwhile, I do agree, that it can be cumulative and you reach a point where the delicate balance is tipped and all hell breaks loose.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 13, 2016 @ 9:44 PM

      • And be careful of Aspartame (which you have mentioned before, Phyllis). It can be found in a lot of OTC medications, especially in you need a chewable version of the medication. My son had 3 seizures after taking Allegra with Aspartame on different occasions (and a lot of vomiting after each seizure).


        Comment by Martha — November 13, 2016 @ 10:28 PM

  8. Not sure what I have? Around 13 years ago I had a seizure behind the wheel. Doctors couldn’t figure out what caused it. Been on carbamazepine ever since. Never had one again. Instead being on this med. for such a long time now my Sodium was low caused me to have a Grand Mal about a year an half ago. Got off of this medicine. Started a new medication that just came out. Been feeling great. All my test and #’s are good. I truly believe I should of never been on carbamazepine for that long. Especially not having a seizure over 10 years. My Neurologist just wanted me to keep taking it to be safe. Instead I think it hurt my body.


    Comment by Teresa — November 13, 2016 @ 6:33 PM

  9. You could have had a stress induced seizure and the doctor put you on carbamazepine, just to be “safe”.

    But the sodium and the Gran Mal were a poor substitute. I can’t blame you for being angry.

    With one seizure, AEDs might have been overkill.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 13, 2016 @ 9:31 PM

  10. “Just to be safe.” It’s the norm until the Dr. finds out what’s really wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes you never find out but are forever on zombie meds for some seemingly unknown reason which you are helpless to control. This is traumatic and should be treated differently.


    Comment by Susan — November 14, 2016 @ 8:10 PM

  11. Susan, point well taken.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 15, 2016 @ 9:05 AM

  12. This was very helpful. Thank you. I have had epilepsy from a young age but now my fiance is suffering from some sort of episode when he is asleep. He also has been battling on and off kidney stones for 3 years. I wonder if it is some sort of metabolic disturbance. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by cmsjma — March 26, 2017 @ 11:27 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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