What does it feel like to have non-epileptic attacks?
Most patients experience their NEAs as confusing and beyond their control.
Four out of five people with NEAD recognise triggers for their attacks. Triggers include certain physical states (such as being tired or ill), external factors (such as flashing lights or excessive noise), an emotional state (such as feeling upset or anxious) or reminders of distressing experiences.
Over two thirds of people with NEAD are aware of warnings before their attacks. These include feelings of panic (>50%), bodily symptoms, sensory symptoms (such as sensing strong smells) and feeling removed from themselves or looking at themselves from the outside.
Most people experience some degree of loss of control or awareness during their NEAs. About one half of people with NEAs are completely unaware during their attacks. However, many people are aware of what is going on around them but are unable to respond. Some carry out activities during the attacks (including walking or talking to others) without being able to remember this later. Some people hear or see things during the attacks which are not actually happening at the time.
People with NEAs also experience a range of symptoms after their attacks. These include tiredness and fatigue, changes in memory or speech, or changes in emotional state or physical sensations.
Some people describe physical symptoms of panic (such as trembling, sweating or heart racing) during attacks without feeling anxious. One study showed that people with NEAD felt no more anxious than people with epilepsy in their attacks but had more physical panic symptoms (such as shortness of breath or smothering sensation; choking; nausea or abdominal distress/butterflies or knot in stomach; chest pains or discomfort) but did not score high on anxiety levels.
The fact that the symptoms of NEAD are predominantly physical for most people can make it very difficult for them to understand that their attacks do not have an identifiable physical cause like epilepsy. For instance, one recent study showed that patients with NEAD are less likely than patients with epilepsy to see psychological factors as relevant to their symptoms and more likely to deny that they have suffered from life stress. Patients with NEAD were also more likely to report an external locus of control for their attacks, meaning they were more likely to view their attacks as unpredictable and directed by something outside their own control.
The symptoms people experience in their NEAs depend on the causes of their attacks. For example, people who have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to have convulsive and longer seizures, more likely to have emotional triggers, experience flashbacks during attacks, report nocturnal spells seizure injuries or incontinence.
You may experience further symptoms that do not seem to be related to your attacks.
Click here for information about other symptoms.