Functional Neurological Symptoms
Understanding Functional Neurological Symptoms (FNS)
Functional Neurological Symptoms (FNS) are not caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and therefore show no electro-physiological correlation. Functional Neurological Symptoms are often triggered by and exacerbated by psychological (emotional or stress-related) factors.
Functional neurological symptoms (FNS) can include non-epileptic seizures, loss of consciousness, drop attacks and black-outs, pain, facial spams, functional jerks and twitches, difficulty breathing, dizziness, clenching, paralysis, inability to speak or slurred speech, headaches, bowl and bladder symptoms. Individuals experiencing functional neurological symptoms are often semi-conscious and clients have described that they can hear what is being said, but that they cannot speak, feel foggy, out-of-their-body, numb, or overtaken by a strong energy. Individuals diagnosed with FNS often experience anxiety, depression, symptoms of PTSD, and difficulty concentrating.
How are FNS diagnosed?
The most effective way of diagnosing FNS is by means of a video-EEG. Visual observation, history taking, and routine office EEG can give false positives. Due to similarities, FNS can be misdiagnosed as a neurological disorder, and it can take years for the patient to find out that he, she, or they does not actually have a neurological disorder. FNS has been diagnosed in children, teenagers, and adults.
The Causes of FNS
Research suggests that accumulated stress and trauma in a person’s life can lead to the development of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. Reports show that approximately 70% of individuals with FNS have been exposed to accumulated stress and/or trauma during their life. Underlying conditions are in many cases depression (50-90% of individuals with FNS are also clinically depressed), post-traumatic stress disorder (25-58% of individuals are diagnosed with PTSD), and/or anxiety disorders (about 50% of individuals with FNS). In a sense, functional neurological symptoms can be seen as a physical manifestation of a dysregulated nervous system.
At the Rocky Mountain Center for Epilepsy we have seen a correlation not only between PTSD and FNS, but also between being “highly sensitive” and experiencing functional neurological symptoms. A highly sensitive person is an individual who has a sensory processing sensitivity, including hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity.
Treatments for FNS
If you have been diagnosed with FNS you might feel confused. What does this diagnosis mean? Where do you go from here? How can you have symptoms that look like seizures or paralysis but not be diagnosed with a neurological diagnosis such as epilepsy?
With FNS, your doctor might prescribe medication to manage accompanying psychological conditions such as depression or anxiety, but hopefully will also recommend psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be useful to help a patient explore, understand and manage the stressors that lead to psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. Identifying triggers, reducing stressors while learning about effective stress coping strategies, working with anger and the often lack of assertiveness, while treating symptoms of PTSD can all be helpful tools on the journey of reducing or possibly eliminating FND.
Here at the Rocky Mountain Center for Epilepsy we specialize in offering holistic support for the underlying conditions of functional neurological symptoms.
“I believe that no one needs to be alone (confused, isolated, hopeless) in this frightening experience and everyone has the ability to walk through and away from the reality of having functional neurological symptoms when educated and equipped with proper tools.” Afra Moenter, PhD
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with FND, contact us to see how we can support your path to healing.
Are you ready to take the first step toward a seizure free life?