Can Panic Attacks Cause Seizures?

It’s important to distinguish between panic attacks and seizures first, before addressing this question specifically. Panic attacks have been associated with seizure but much of the medical information on this subject focuses on trying to find physiological and chemical causes for seizures. If the path leads back to changes brought on by panic attacks then the doctor can work with the patient to deal with both the onset of panic and the following physical problems.

Doctors use great care to distinguish between a seizure disorder and an illness that might be psychiatric in nature. The percentages seem to be very small when medical researchers compile information about these two issues. It’s hard to make final determinations based on so small a sample from the larger population. Even now, after decades of careful study, doctors state that it is very difficult to distinguish between seizure disorder and conditions that might have other causes.

One thing that makes this even more difficult is that symptoms during a “partial” seizure are very similar to the symptoms of panic disorder. Doctors hesitate to conduct complex tests in every panic-disorder patient because it takes so much time and careful observation to uncover a partial seizure. Years of medical research also indicate that seizure disorders generally show up when the person is a child. Panic disorder is usually associated with young adults.

Medical personnel base a lot of their thinking on what the patient reports about a panic attack. The individual might describe something similar to a seizure but extensive testing might show that this really didn’t occur. According to “A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that usually affects how a person feels or acts for a short time. Seizures are not a disease in themselves. Instead, they are a symptom of many different disorders that can affect the brain. Some seizures can hardly be noticed, while others are totally disabling.”

But is important to recognize how different seizures and panic attacks are based on how they are treated medically. Doctors find that panic disorder responds to a certain category of prescription drug (anxiolytic) while seizure disorder responds to anti-convulsant drugs and not to anxiolytic drugs.

A few individuals have reported that they did indeed “act” in a manner that seemed to indicate seizure immediately after a panic attack. It is certainly possible, some doctors say, that extreme physical changes during a panic attack (heart rate, breathing difficulties, some changes in chemical levels in the body) could be extreme enough to cause a “sudden surge of electrical activity” in the brain that characterizes a seizure.

In summary, medical research has not established a definite connection between panic attacks and seizures, but in some individuals a propensity toward seizure activity could result from intense changes in the body that occur during panic attack.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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