Epilepsy Talk

Childhood Abuse and Epilepsy | August 25, 2018

All types of abuse — sexual, physical, and emotional (including verbal abuse and witnessing domestic violence) raise the risk of depression, anxiety and epilepsy-like symptoms.

Research featured in Harvard Mental Health Letter and published in The American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the damage that hostile words, and or yelling can have on a child.

They found “words are weapons that can cause lasting wounds, especially when wielded by parents against children. The damage is sometimes more serious and lasting than injuries that result from beatings”, say Harvard researchers reporting on a survey of young adults.

Basically, abuse releases a cascade of stress hormones which produces a lasting effect on brain signals.

Experiments at McLean Hospital, for example, show that patients with a history of abuse are twice as likely to show abnormal electrical activity as non-abused people.

And this abnormal electrical brain activity, in turn, resembles a seizure state, but doesn’t actually produce epilepsy.

Hippocampal Sclerosis

This is a very common (but often unknown) feature of temporal lobe epilepsy.

Changes in the hippocampus — the part of the brain that deals with stress, learning and memory — can be caused by hormones flooding the brain during and after a stressful episode.

But the BIG question is whether hippocampal sclerosis is the consequence of repeated seizures, or whether it plays a role in the development of the epileptic focus?

NESD — Non Epileptic Seizure Disorder

A non-epileptic seizure is a short burst of activity that changes how you move, think, or feel. It looks like an epileptic seizure but there are no measurable electrical changes in the brain.

Not surprisingly, many people have a history of sexual or physical abuse. 75% to 85% are women between the ages of 15 to 35.

It’s a serious condition that shouldn’t be ignored. With early diagnosis and treatment, future problems can be averted.

Psychogenic Non Epileptic Seizures

These seizures are caused by psychological trauma or conflict that has a lasting effect on your state of mind.

The Epilepsy Foundation explains that sexual or physical abuse is the leading cause of psychogenic seizures, where the abuse occurred during childhood.

A psychogenic seizure can be confused with a grand-mal seizure — with convulsions, falling and shaking.

Less often, a psychogenic seizure takes on the form of a complex partial seizure, with a temporary loss of attention.

Because of the reasons for these psychogenic seizures, mental health counseling is encouraged. The prognosis is good, with 60 to 70 percent of patients alleviated of seizure symptoms.

“Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom.” — Erik Erikson


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  1. Thank you for writing about this topic. 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Bonnie — August 25, 2018 @ 9:48 PM

  2. What is the recommended treatment to address the factors related to the sexual abuse? and the partial complex seizures that have I have been having? I have worked with counselors for years! & I have also had 2 brain surgeries to address damage to my brain secondary to having had a fractured skull at 1 year old, and being in a car accident where I broke the steering wheel with my nose. Life sure has been hard! Thanks for your help.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Maire Archbold — August 25, 2018 @ 10:27 PM

    • Frankly Marie, I don’t know what else you can do.

      My first advice would be counseling. But you’re doing that already.

      And you’ve had brain surgery, so there’s no use recommending a VNS or TNS.

      So, I’m sorry to say, I’m stumped. 😦


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 26, 2018 @ 9:02 AM

  3. Worse than physical & verbal abuse I believe is the ACCEPTANCE life which usually does not include you but REJECTS YOU as a child & leading into the adult world of the seizure life. The human brain just focuses on the REJECTIONS ever since 5 years old & every year past that, as the brain has no idea how to accept how others could include you & respect who & what you are, but the seizures keeps them all far away from you & you from them.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by CD — August 25, 2018 @ 10:52 PM

  4. My biggest question is if you suffer from both epilepsy and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures how do you differentiate between the two. My neurologist, psychiatrist and therapist can’t answer the question and everything I have read on PNES states that the most important thing you can do if you have both conditions is to differentiate between them. But no one can answer me. Since they diagnosed me as having both I have tried to analyze my seizure activity and try to associate them with my past but I can’t seem to relate them. Regular stress can bring on epileptic seizures as well as non-epileptic ones and so I can’t find an answer for proper treatment to stop my seizure activity. I’m refractory epileptic, dealing with six different types of seizures. The question remains which ones deal with the epilepsy and which ones with the PNES. I need to know in order to figure out proper treatment. What do I do?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Julie — August 26, 2018 @ 11:38 PM

  5. Child abuse is very rare at education ofcourse the world raise fingers from behind parents co-operation is most necessary at childhood stage today we were writing this topic due to their cooperation we are grateful to them.
    Be positive and never get distracted from negative feelings or emotions of the public.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Yusuf — August 27, 2018 @ 11:03 AM

  6. Seizures, whether from epilepsy or pnes are still traumatic events. Your Neurologist or GP will take care of the medical aspects of these events but NOT the psychological aspects. I believe it is essential for patients to get some type of psychotherapy (short-term, EMDR), to aid in the treatment process. Again, whether epilepsy or pnes. It’s ALL traumatic!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by skolly9 — August 27, 2018 @ 2:52 PM

  7. My seizures have recently become “not Epilepsy-related,” while they haven’t exactly said PNES I am guessing that’s what it is. I have been going through emotional abuse and recently (back in February) got diagnosed with Anxiety. I did have a lot of bullying in school, plus as you mentioned we were spanked and yelled at growing up.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by trekkie80sgirl — August 27, 2018 @ 11:06 PM

  8. I’ve been thru that also been thru old relationships 2 dealing w/it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Denise Myhre — August 28, 2018 @ 3:00 AM

    • I hope you’ve thrown away those toxic relationships and haven’t become a victim yourself.

      How is your anxiety level now? Or is it more like depression?


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 28, 2018 @ 9:46 AM

  9. Thank you for this information.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by juniorsplaceofhope — September 8, 2018 @ 12:46 AM

  10. You mentioned that for people 15 to 35 years of age with NESD, 75 to 85 percent will be of women who experience sexual abuse. What are the statistics for men and boys ? I am curious because I experienced sexual abuse as a teenager and I developed NESD about 25 years later. They would usually happen when I got prolonged absence seizures. This was seen by at least two teachers who did nothing. One even said that I should consider myself lucky that girls showed an interest in me.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by dc — September 11, 2018 @ 1:52 AM

  11. I have been verbally abused my whole life by my father, He is all I have left accept family that doesn’t really care my father is so important to me. He was a Police lueitenant so he is very loud and he thinks he is always right. I try to always let things go over my head but I can’t help it I cry! I am 43 but he knows he can boss me around like a baby. Because I become one in front of him. The on time I walked away, he said he would never speak to me again and I could never come to his house. That was to much for me! no one would talk or help me so I attempted suicide I couldnt do it after I downed a bottle and 1/2 of siezure meds. I called 911 and opened door and passed out. My dad was there when I woke up! Never apologized wasnt his fault! I got upset! It was why I did it. He said I caused his afib heart problem and I could give him a heart attack! Well he could give me a seizure amd I could die and never wake up!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jennyme306@ gmail.com — June 17, 2019 @ 8:35 AM

    • Jenny, toxic people do toxic things.

      The verbal abuse was unforgivable and must have cut deep.

      Deep enough to try ending your life.

      But believe me, suicide is not a pretty place.

      I took a bottle of extended release Wellbutrin, which I know was counter indicative to my seizure medicine.

      Ended up in the ER. Then intensive care for 3 days, then the hospital for another 3 days.

      Next an in house psychiatric facility for two weeks.

      And finally an outpatient group for another two weeks.

      Still, I couldn’t find the keyboard for three more months.

      It was awful.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 17, 2019 @ 11:15 AM

  12. When I was a kid in the 70s i had several brain operations and seizures 4 yrs ago was my last operation. I pray I dont need any more. Im single and had all my meds tegretolxr 200mg stolen from my first apartment. landlady yelled prove it said i can’t prove my meds were stolen. I wanted to grab her and say hand over all my meds now. I walked out yelling you just killed me Bitch and I walked out. I ran into the crazy woman and she threatened to sue me while I was shopping in Walmart I yelled your Crazy daid your not in your apartments your in a public store Walmart. I yelled Leave Me Alone before I call the police for stalking me and threatening me!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Russell Ray Hanawalt aka Rusty — September 30, 2019 @ 12:05 PM

  13. The article give strength to the mental health debate that patients face.The “Will Power” of a patient to focus on positive activities of daily living,building cognitive skills and increase learning is vital.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by John Shilby — October 1, 2019 @ 12:16 PM

    • It’s difficult to be a victim. So many people will not stand up for themselves, no less advocate for epilepsy education.

      But, you’re right. In wrong doing there is anger.

      And perhaps these people can use their miserable histories to shine a light on the dangers of epilepsy and abuse, building an invincible power base.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 1, 2019 @ 12:49 PM

      • Goodness gracious!! I am SO SORRY FOR ALL THE ANGUISH AND PAIN CAUSED ON ACCOUNT OF A PARENT, CAREGIVER AND ON AND ON!! I believe the hardest thing to do is using your own past experiences to ensure your future and your spouses and children and friends COMPLETELY SINCERELY UNDERSTAND AND STILL LOVE YOU!! But I HONESTLY HOPE THAT HELPS OTHERS TO UNDERSTAND WHY WE ARE AN OPEN BOOK WITH THEM!! Change is painful believe me I know!!!!! But there would be no change IF NOBODY EVER SPOKE UP for themselves and loved ones so the PROFESSIONAL PERSONAL BECOME KNOWLEDGEABLE AND OUR LOVED ONES KNOW WHY we do and say and are the way we are today!! I don’t have rugs, closets that way nothing ever gets shoved in the closet, shoved under the bed or maybe even into a basement!!!!! Honesty and sincerity REALLY HURTS SOMETIMES BUT REALLY HELPS ALL TO HEAL AND KNOW THEY ARE NOT ALONE AND GET HELP!! 🙏🏼🦅😇💝😘

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Kathy S.B — October 27, 2019 @ 9:33 PM

  14. I used to have plenty of rugs and closets. Many of them were to hide my epilepsy.

    My parents treated me like a pariah and wouldn’t even say the “E” word. (And we’re talking a step-father surgeon and step-mother psychologist among them.)

    Therapy became a real eye-opener for me. I was NOT defective. I was a walking, talking, true, sincere person who happened to have this condition.

    With therapy, and as I grew into my own skin as an adult, I began to understand and accept that.

    That’s when this moth became a butterfly!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 27, 2019 @ 10:43 PM

  15. It’s very true some segments of societies or even cultures have a VERY TRAUMATIC HISTORY that changed who we/I and future generations by not fault of their own. That lead to not only feeling inadequate but unable to process the damages caused to us as a person and people. As history played out we were left with a certain disconnection from our own biological “life donors and biological reproducers” because even they didn’t know what was happening to them and why? As for being a pariah and mistreated in that fashion due to the unknown unwillingness of those families we were left to feel inadequate, unsupported and either over protected or not protected at all. Epilepsy may have been here since Albert Einstein and then some, but due to fear or possibly ignorance and shame we had to deal with the feelings of how our own caregivers thought and their devices. To which they never had much. That wasn’t always their fault either. But we all pulled through and are here today to help and teach them, eachother and the medical profession what we are able too!! For that I AM VERY PROUD OF ALL OF US!!!!!!! SO PLEASE KEEP TALKING AND THANK YOU PHYLIS FOR THE EDUCATION AND PLATFORM TO NOT ONLY TEACH US, HELP US BUT ALLOW US ALL A VOICE WITHOUT REPERCUSSIONS OF GUILT AND SHAME!! 😘🙏🏼🦅😇💞😘

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy S.B — October 27, 2019 @ 11:27 PM

    • Thank you, Kathy, that meant a lot to me.

      We’re all here to listen, advise, vent, help and care for each other.

      In an atmosphere of love and understanding.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 28, 2019 @ 10:08 AM

  16. Goodmorning Phylis 😊. YOUR VERY WELCOME 🙏🏼🦅😘. Thank you for the education and platform to be allowed to be me!! 😘

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy S.B — October 28, 2019 @ 10:32 AM

  17. Hello Phyllis, good morning I seem to be have problems also with my A-fib so I have multiple health problems, I’m able to handle them and if I can I shouldn’t have any problem. I’m not one to give up.I just want a decent life.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Belinda — November 15, 2019 @ 8:52 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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