September 9, 2022

Characterizing Differences in Psychiatric Profiles Between Male and Female Veterans with Epilepsy and Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures

Abstract found on PubMed

Objective: While previous studies have described psychiatric profiles in patients with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) and epileptic seizures (ES), a well-matched comparison between males and females has been lacking. To address this shortcoming, the present study sought to explore sex differences between male and female Veterans with ES and PNES in terms of psychiatric diagnoses, trauma histories, and psychiatric treatment.

Methods: A male Veteran sample (PNES n = 87, ES n = 28) was identified matching age and seizure diagnosis with our previously-gathered female Veteran sample (PNES n = 90, ES n = 28). Retrospective chart review was used to obtain demographic, psychiatric, and seizure-related variables. Group differences between PNES and ES were first assessed among males followed by differences between males and females.

Results: Males with PNES were more likely to receive psychiatric treatment (82.6 % vs. 60.7 %, p = 0.017), be prescribed more psychotropics (1.6 vs. 0.9, p = 0.003), and more likely to have childhood physical abuse (27.9 % vs. 3.6 %, p = 0.007) than those with ES. Compared to PNES, males with ES presented to the epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) significantly later (12.8 years vs. 6.1 years, p = 0.009), and were prescribed more anti-seizure medications (ASMs) previously (2.1 vs. 0.8, p = 0.009) and currently (1.6 vs. 1.0, p = 0.001). Between males and females with PNES, females evidenced more depression (76.7 % vs. 26.3 %, p < 0.001), borderline personality disorder (18.9 % vs. 4.7 %, p = 0.004), suicidality (65.6 % vs. 33.7 %, p < 0.001), and childhood sexual abuse (37.8 % vs. 11.6 %, p < 0.001), while males had higher rates of substance use disorders (37.2 % vs. 8.9 %, p < 0.001).

Significance: A greater psychiatric burden is seen among females compared to males with PNES, especially diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and depression. Higher rates of suicidality and inpatient psychiatric hospitalization may warrant particular consideration in screening and intervention efforts among female Veterans with PNES.