Pseudoseizures may occur as a somatoform disorder in children and adolescents as well as adults. However, few data are available about psychiatric features or outcome in pediatric patients.
Patients and Methods
We studied 34 patients (25 girls [74%]) who were evaluated by a child psychiatrist at our institution immediately after diagnosis of pseudoseizures by ictal video electroencephalogram (EEG) at ages 9 to 18 years (mean age, 14 years). Each patient had at least 1 pseudoseizure recorded by video EEG that was judged by the patient and family as typical, characterized by unresponsiveness plus limb twitching or limpness and other features, with EEG showing persistence of normal cortical background rhythms.
In addition to conversion disorder, 11 patients (32%) had mood disorders including major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymic disorder, usually with severe psychosocial stressors. Eight children (24%) had separation anxiety and school refusal with moderate psychosocial stressors. Two patients (6%) had brief reactive psychosis or schizophreniform disorder. A few (1-3) patients each had panic disorder, overanxious disorder, adjustment disorder, oppositional/defiant disorder, or impulse control disorder. Four patients (12%) also had personality disorders. Eleven patients (32%) had a history of sexual abuse. This was especially frequent in the subgroup with mood disorders (7 [64%] of 11 patients). Fifteen patients (44%) had severe family stressors including recent parental divorce, parental discord, or death of a close family member. Two patients (6%) had a history of physical abuse. Freedom from pseudoseizures for the preceding 9 to 55 months (mean, 30 months) was achieved for 15 (72%) of the 21 patients who could be reached for telephone follow-up. For 8 (53%) of these 15 patients, the last pseudoseizure was within 1 month of diagnosis by video EEG.
Major mood disorders and severe environmental stress, especially sexual abuse, are common among children and adolescents with pseudoseizures and should be considered in every case. A subgroup of children with separation anxiety and school refusal had less severe psychiatric problems and moderate psychosocial stressors. Clear diagnosis by video EEG, together with prompt psychiatric evaluation and treatment, may result in freedom from pseudoseizures for most children and adolescents.