April 30, 2021

Patients With Late-Onset Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES): How Do They Compare to Those With Younger Onset?

Abstract, originally published in Seizure

Objective: To determine whether patients who experienced their first psychogenic non-epileptic seizure (PNES) at 50 years or older differed from those who developed PNES at a younger age, in terms of demographic, social/clinical as well as psychological measures.

Background: The typical age for PNES onset is roughly between 20 and 40 years of age. Only a handful of studies have examined samples with PNES onset at an older age and therefore information about these individuals is limited.

Methods: This is a retrospective study of 75 consecutive individuals who developed (video EEG-confirmed diagnosis) PNES before age 50 years and 55 consecutive individuals who developed PNES at 50 years or more. Patients were examined on demographics (age, education, working and relationship status), clinical (seizure frequency, trauma type: sexual, multiple trauma, and health-related traumatic experiences), and self-report measures(Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations, Toronto Alexithymia Scale, and the Quality of Life Inventory in Epilepsy-31).

Results: Patients who had experienced sexual trauma were likelier to develop PNES at an earlier age. Those who experienced “health problems pre-PNES onset” were likelier to develop PNES at an older age. On psychological measures, it was noted that after adjusting for the covariate effects, those with elevations in Avoidance (CISS) were likelier to develop PNES at an earlier age. and those with elevations in QOLIE31 cognitive complaints were likelier to be in the older cohort.

Conclusions: No matter at what age PNES presented, patients reported markedly high rates of exposure to psychological trauma (single and multiple), similarly elevated unemployment rates and low quality of life. The groups with different age of onset differed in the type of trauma experienced prior to the development of PNES. In addition, the younger onset group demonstrated a significantly higher use of avoidance as a stress-coping strategy.

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