PNES (Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures)

What are PNES?

PNES (Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures) are attacks that closely resemble epilepsy-related seizures (most commonly grand-mal seizures), but abnormal electric activity in the brain doesn’t cause them, and they don’t cause brain damage. They come, instead, from mental/psychological distress.


The main symptom of PNES is seizure-like attacks. The only true way to know if someone has PNES rather than epilepsy is through testing, but the following symptoms may point toward a potential likelihood of PNES:

  • Convulsive seizures that last longer than 10 minutes
  • Convulsive seizures, where you still retain awareness
  • Rapid side-to-side head movements
  • Out-of-phase limb movements
  • Eyes-closed unresponsiveness
  • Pelvic thrusting
  • Changing patterns of movement

Who Does it Affect?

PNES are more common in women than men and often begin in early adulthood.

Risk factors in developing PNES include:

  • History of sexual abuse
  • History of physical abuse or neglect
  • Coexisting psychiatric conditions (i.e., depressive disorders, PTSD, or personality disorders)
  • A tendency to suppress emotions

PNES is also more prevalent in the population of veterans.

Common Co-Morbids with PNES


PNES is treated by treating the underlying psychiatric conditions – this is done through therapy and potentially medication. Often, CBT-based therapies will be used, as well as EMDR.


This Cleveland Clinic article inspired this page.

Last updated on October 27, 2023
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