Often when someone is struggling with a mental illness the symptoms are internal, with the only physical manifestation being noticeable changes in outward behavior. That said, it’s a false belief that mental illness is strictly an internally responsive ailment. And sometimes people will develop very serious physical symptoms, such as PTSD seizures.
Admittedly, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) seizures aren’t a common occurrence. But when they do happen, they can have very detrimental consequences. Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into PTSD seizures as well as how to treat them properly. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
PTSD Seizures Defined
PTSD has a whole range of symptoms that affect cognition, mood, and behaviors. There is a greater understanding of how PTSD symptoms can coalesce into a physiological response such as a seizure. The complexity of PTSD and seizure-like responses is that there is evidence of two kinds, both of which can affect those with PTSD.
The common kind of PTSD seizure is epileptic in nature. Epileptic seizures are caused by electrical interruptions within the brain’s internal structures. They are often categorized by motor difficulties, sporadic behaviors, as well as loss of consciousness.
They can last between 30 seconds to two minutes and can be extremely disorientating for those that are affected. Those that experience two or more seizures in a 24-hour period that isn’t explained or triggered by a specific source are generally caused by epilepsy. ¹
The other kind of seizure is a psychogenic nonepileptic seizure or a PNES response. PNES responses are attacks that often can seem like they are epileptic seizures but are caused by psychological factors. ² Unlike epilepsy, PNES seizures can last from minutes to hours. ³
What are PTSD Seizures Symptoms?
The symptoms of a PTSD seizure can be wide-ranging and may encompass one, a few, or all of the common experiences listed below. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t other symptoms or sensations that those may experience. It’s best to be aware of seizure symptoms, document them, as well as share them with the care team and support network.
In terms of the two types of seizures, you may experience:
PNES Seizure Symptoms: ⁴
- Body tremors
- Head shaking
- Opening, closing, and rolling of eyes with occasional rapid blinking
- Shifts in consciousness
Epileptic Seizure Symptoms: ⁵
- Increase in fear, anxiety, and paranoia with reports of sensations such as deja vu
- Loss of consciousness or overall awareness
- Stiffness of muscles
- Uncontrollable jerking movements
Above all, an increase in seizure duration or occurrences constitutes a medical emergency. Therefore, those suffering should be sent to an emergency room for evaluation and emergency care.
What Causes PTSD Seizures
Now that we’re aware of what PTSD seizures are and what the symptoms look like, the last burning question is what causes them to begin with.
The cause of PTSD seizures are traumatic triggers: events, reminders, or behaviors that can place the suffering back to the root cause of their PTSD. However, there isn’t one root cause for PTSD seizures, given that there are two classifications of these responses.
We’re going to break down the potential causes for these PTSD seizures based on their specific classifications.
Epileptic PTSD Seizure Causes
Evidence suggests that early developmental stress induced during childhood or during adolescence can impact the formation of epilepsy. Other factors that can increase the chances of developing epilepsy are: ⁶
- Traumatic brain injury (or a TBI)
- Brain cancers and tumors
- Long-term abuse of alcohol or cognitive affecting drugs such as LSD, Meth, or PCP
- Lack of oxygen during birth
Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizure Causes
As for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, there are one of two rationalities that can explain their causation. One is that the PNES response is based on an underlying somatic symptom disorder. ⁷
Somatic symptom disorders are a medical phenomenon that results in a physiological response rooted in anxiety over the perceived physical ailment. These responses can result in an inability to function, increased pain, and in extreme cases episodes involving increased disassociation.
Most often these somatic symptom disorders are exacerbated by environmental and emotional stressors, often linked to traumatic memories, behaviors, or events. ⁸
However, the most common case for PTSD sufferers is that PNES seizures are in result of a condition known as conversion disorder or functional neurological symptom disorder. Conversion disorder occurs when a person experiences physical and sensory complications such as paralysis, numbness, blindness, deafness, or seizures, with no neurological reasoning.
Most of those afflicted by conversion disorder are teenagers and young adults, however, conversion disorder can affect anyone at any age, especially during times of great stress. ⁹
Both somatic symptom disorders and functional neurological symptom disorders have ties to PTSD and can explain why certain patients are experiencing psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. Studies show that psychological stressors can manifest into physiological responses which can inhibit the normal functionality of the brain and body. ¹⁰
How to Treat PTSD Seizures
Treating PTSD seizures is usually a multi-pronged approach to treating the underlying psychological complication (PTSD) and the physical response (the epileptic or PNES seizures).
Treating the PTSD component is a mixture of talk therapy (such as CBT or exposure therapy) and in certain cases utilizing medications to help with the symptoms. Therefore, approach to try and ease the PTSD seizures will depend on the diagnosis of which kind of seizure the patient is experiencing.
Epileptic Seizure Treatments
For epileptic seizures, the common treatment approach is to utilize medications. Monitoring by a neurology team is imperative to ensure optimal results. Therefore, the most common medications for epilepsy are: ¹¹
- Gabapentin (Neurontin) is an anticonvulsant that is responsible for acting as a GABA neurotransmitter replacement which, in those with GABA deficiencies, can help decrease abnormal excitement in the brain which can cause seizure activity. ¹²
- Phenytoin (Dilantin) is also an anticonvulsant but in a different classification as it targets electrical activity in the brain, rather than decreasing or increasing a specific neurological transmitter. ¹³
- Phenobarbital is a barbiturate that acts as a regulator to over-active neurological transmitters. To put it simply its job is to slow overall activity in the brain, thus regulating seizure activity. Though due to phenobarbital being barbiturate, it is vitally important that the dosage is correct and its use is monitored. ¹⁴
As for PNES responses, the recommended treatment plan is to approach it with talk therapy, exercise or physical therapy, as well as regulation of diet. For therapy approaches, targeted cognitive behavioral therapy has shown great promise for PNES responses. ¹⁵
A structured workout regimen that involved not just calisthenics but strength exercises involving the entire body seems to help with the increase in stamina, strength, and neurological processing. ¹⁶ Changes in diet and eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that improve cognitive function have shown promise in the reduction of abnormal brain activity. ¹⁷ Medications aren’t common but SSRI-based antidepressants have shown promise in easing some of the more physiological symptoms.¹⁸
Holistic Treatments for PTSD Seizures
It’s understandable for those that do not want to utilize harsh pharmaceutical medications to try and treat their seizure symptoms.
The good news is that there are natural options that can help ease symptoms and provide essential nutrients and vitamins that will also aid your body in its normal functionality. Multiple studies have shown natural supplements, vitamins and nutrients can support the symptoms of PTSD seizures.
- Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the perineal gland that regulates sleep and rest for the body. There is a belief that those with epilepsy might suffer from decreased melatonin levels, and certain studies have shown that melatonin can suppress seizure activity. ¹⁹ Although these studies have had mixed results. Discussing these options with a medical provider is best to obtain optimal results.
- Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that assists with detoxifying the blood within the body and the brain. ²⁰ A study has found that those that took a vitamin E supplement had decreased seizure activity and symptoms. ²¹
- Magnesium is a mineral found within the body that helps with protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. ²² Studies have shown that those with epilepsy have lower magnesium levels and that the mineral can help reduce seizures. Researchers believe that magnesium inhibits the excitement of the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor within the brain. ²³
- Vitamin B-6 is one of the B vitamins and an essential nutrient as it assists with regulating brain function. ²⁴ Those with B vitamin deficiencies are more at risk for seizure activities. ²⁵
Holistic Products for PTSD Seizure Symptoms
As we have previously discussed the specific supplements and vitamins that can help ease PTSD seizure symptoms, we are going to look at a couple of products that contain those necessary ingredients.
In order to assist in PTSD seizures, we recommend the following two supplements:
Nature Made: Melatonin Supplement
- A natural drug-free sleep aid.
- Subscription service saves you an additional 10%
- Free shipping only applies for orders $49.99 and over
Life Extension: Multivitamin Supplement
- A multivitamin that includes Vitamins E, B6, and Magnesium
- Dairy, gluten, peanut, and tree nut free
- Subscription service saves you an additional 10%
- Free shipping only applies for orders $49.99 and over
It’s already difficult enough to try and manage a mental illness so how do you begin to deal with a debilitating physical response to a mental illness? You start by empowering yourself with knowledge. By educating yourself, your loved ones, and your community you not only identify and understand but you comprehensively and compassionately care for those in need.
Still, PTSD is already a stigmatized disorder. It’s a mental illness that marginalizes its sufferers to the world around them.
Physiological responses such as in the case of PTSD seizures can only exacerbate the suffering. That is why it’s imperative that we educate ourselves, and understand the symptoms so we can be better patients, support systems, and allies through the diagnosis and treatment processes.
We might not all be doctors or mental health professionals but we all hold the capacity for compassion and care.
Do you still have questions about PTSD seizures?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Mayo Clinic: Epilepsy – Overview
² Eplipesy Foundation: Understanding The Cause Of PNES
³ National Library of Medicine: Screen for and Diagnose Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures
⁴ National Library of Medicine: Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures
⁵ Cleveland Clinic: Symptoms of Epilepsy
⁶ National Health Service UK: Epileptic Seizure Causes
⁷ Epilepsy Foundation: What causes PNES?
⁸ Mayo Clinic: Somatic symptom disorder
⁹ Mayo Clinic: Functional neurologic disorder/conversion disorder
¹⁰ National Library of Medicine: The impact of stress on body function
¹¹ Good RX: Common Antiepileptic Seizure Medications
¹² National Library of Medicine: Gabapentin – Overview
¹³ National Library of Medicine: Phenytoin
¹⁴ National Library of Medicine: Phenobarbital
¹⁵ National Library of Medicine: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES)
¹⁶ Harvard Health Publishing: Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills
¹⁷ National Library of Medicine: Brain Foods – Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function
¹⁸ National Library of Medicine: Pharmacologic trial for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures
¹⁹ National Library of Medicine – Clinical Trials: Effect of Melatonin on Seizure Outcome
²⁰ National Institutes for Health – Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin E Fact Sheet
²¹ National Library of Medicine: Effects of Vitamin E on seizure frequency
²² National Institutes for Health – Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium Fact Sheet
²³ National Library of Medicine: Can magnesium supplementation reduce seizures in people with epilepsy?
²⁴ Mayo Clinic: Vitamin B-6 Overview
²⁵ National Library of Medicine: Seizures caused by pyridoxine (vitamin B6) deficiency in adults