Functional Neurological Symptoms

Understanding Functional Neurological Symptoms (FNS)

Functional neurological symptoms (FNS) or Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of sensorimotor symptoms that resemble neurological conditions. FNS include functional movement disorders and tremors, idiopathic non-epileptic seizures, drop-attacks, visual symptoms such as blindness, photophobia and double vision, speech impairment and stutter, touch sensitivity, chronic pain, gate and balance problems, as well as paralysis and weakness. Cognitive and emotional challenges, memory loss, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, or avoidance often accompany FNS. In addition, symptoms of altered awareness, including dissociative symptoms, derealization, and depersonalization, are very common.

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 diagnostic process relies on finding clear positive physical features of the condition which makes FNS not a diagnosis of exclusion.  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

Contrary to popular belief, anybody can experience the sudden onset of FNS. Age, gender, mental health, level of education, or other demographic factors seem to not have direct bearing on the onset of FNS.

Research suggests that an existing chronic illness such as MS or Parkinsons, and/or accumulated stress and trauma in a person’s life can lead to the development of FNS. 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 FNS. 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?

Somatic psychotherapy can be useful to help a patient explore, understand and manage the stressors that lead to FNS. Identifying triggers, reducing stressors while learning about effective stress coping strategies, working with emotions  and belief systems, while treating symptoms of PTSD can all be helpful tools on the journey of reducing or possibly eliminating FNS.

 

Here at the Rocky Mountain Center for Epilepsy we specialize in offering 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 FNS, 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?

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