Information for parents, carers & professionals

What are non-epileptic attacks?

When people have non-epileptic attaks they experience sudden changes in their behaviour and ability to control their body. Unlike epileptic seizures, the changes are not due to electrical activity in the brain. More information can be found on the symptoms page.

You may have read or been told that non-epileptic attaks are caused by a significant traumatic event in the past. However, the exact causes for non-epileptic attacks in children are not known. Most research indicates links between psychological distress and seizures, and not necessarily a traumatic event. Studies have shown school worry/stress to be the biggest cause for non-epileptic attack disorder in children.

Why is my child having attacks?

Non-epileptic attacks happen because of problems with managing thoughts, memories, emotions or sensations in the brain. Sometimes this might be due to stress or worries. However, they can also happen to people who seem calm and relaxed. In most cases people do not know why they have them.

Some children have both epileptic and non-epileptic seizures. Your medical doctor will have told you which type your child has.

Will they get better?

Children with non-epileptic attacks can recover fully and lead normal lives. Non-epileptic attacks can often reduce significantly once the diagnosis has been given, but children often need some extra help in getting better. Children are also more likely to become seizure free compared to adults.

Who can help my child?

There are people who can help your child to learn new ways to manage their stress, worries and anxiety and hopefully reduce or prevent more attacks. If your child has not already been referred to a specialist who helps people in this way you should ask their doctor if they can request an appointment with someone in your local area.

Health professionals such as clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists may have been trained to work with difficulties related to symptoms that people with non-epileptic attacks have. They often work in special teams called Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or some hospitals. More information about these qualified people and local services can be found on the NHS website.

What can I do?

While it may be difficult, acceptance of the diagnosis is key to helping your child get better. It is also important to recognise that the physical symptoms are real and your child is not deliberately making them happen.

Like epileptic seizures, non-epileptic attacks are frightening to see. However, it is best to try and keep calm and make sure the child having the attack is safe from injuring themselves.

Remember that non-epileptic attacks do not cause any damage to the brain, even if they go on for several minutes.

Speak calmly to the child having the attack; non-epileptic attacks often stop more quickly if the child having is addressed in a calm and reassuring way. Your child may be able to tell you what is helpful to them.

You should only call an ambulance if you think that the seizure is epileptic. When a diagnosis of non-epileptic attack disorder (without epileptic seizures) has been made, it is not necessary to call an ambulance even if the seizure lasts more than five minutes. You may wish to ask your child’s doctor about this.

What can school do?

information for schools coming soon

What can my child do?

While doctors and other qualified people can help your child to manage anxiety, stress and attacks, there are some things that may help you and your child now. Managing high levels of stress and anxiety has been found to be helpful in lots of young people and adults. If your child is having significant difficulty you should speak to your doctor or GP about talking to someone about the feelings or symptoms they may be having. More information can be found on our strategies page.

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