Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder, which is a form of FND (Functional Neurological Disorder) according to the specialist Neurological Consultant I spoke to, is as common out there as MS. So how is it that when I have spoken to GP's they do not know what it is!?
What is NEAD?
NEAD (Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder) comes about when the brain protects the system from overloads of stress and the physical body ceases to function in order to keep it still and as protected as possible. It is a metabolic reaction often triggered by adrenal overload or noradrenalin dumping out after conflict, shock or fear have occurred. This can take the form of seizures, muscular spasms, sensations of total body weakness, along with lack of focussed thought and overwhelming emotions.
Unlike epilepsy that is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, NEAD can stem from a traumatic or stressful event that triggers psychogenic seizures, otherwise known as dissociative seizures. People with the condition may experience different types of seizures. Whether generalised or partial seizure, it may last for a few seconds to one whole day. In fact, there have been anecdotal reports of teenagers having 100 seizures a day!
Non-epileptic seizures often look or feel like a stroke, with the sufferer unable to move their limbs or extremities, or shaking uncontrollably, especially if the numbness and paralysis occurs on one side of the body, face or head only. It can be mistaken for diabetes or hypoglycaemic shock because as a metabolic reaction once the adrenalin hits in and then drops it increases insulin input which reduces blood sugars far too quickly. The person can be boiling hot with freezing extremities so that if they are having tremors or rigours people think them cold…not always the case.
It is very scary for the recipient and for those watching and trying to help. Many people suffering with the condition cannot get a diagnosis because the situation can be occasional, right the way through to people struggling with many of these seizures in a day and needing to be wheelchair bound. Now this is not the same as epilepsy as you do not lose continence or stop breathing. But it can be just as debilitating on many levels, and sufferers are often not taken seriously because medical health professionals cannot find anything in their blood tests, brain scan, etc. Often, it is put down to a panic attack! Anxiety!
Trust me, having suffered myself, it is nothing like that…and I am the least likely person to panic! In fact, I am the registered first aider that gets called upon to rush to a scene of an overturned car in the street.
Causes and Risk Factors of NEAD
Functional Neurological Disorder can come from long-term PTSD, which most people associate with being (or having formerly been) in the forces or working long-term in highly stressed environments such as those that police officers or prison officers are in. But in reality, it can be caused by anything from bullying, any form of abuse (emotional or sexual), feeling controlled by someone who is narcissistic or dominating you, to just being in a bad relationship that you feel unable to get out of, yet you know is unhealthy. That does not have to be a romantic relationship; it can be with parents, with other family members, with a co-worker or an employer.
Kids who have experienced traumatic events, such as the acrimonious divorce of their parents, may also experience psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. There are many reasons someone might develop this illness. Some factors that increase one's risk of developing it include a long-standing mental health condition or a physical illness. It is very real, it is not psychosomatic, it is very debilitating.
Symptoms of NEAD
Whilst epilepsy and nonepileptic seizures are two different things, the latter is often mistaken for the other as they share some similarities. They can happen at any time of the day, whether you're awake or asleep. Both make the body do involuntary movements or cause loss of awareness. Some of the most common physical symptoms of NEAD though include:
- Eye strains and dryness
- Vision loss or swimming sensation in the eyes
- Nausea from anxiety and fear
- Waking anxious
- Being unable to sleep
- Sighing or having to take continuous deep breaths to try and oxygenate
- Feeling over adrenal (which occurs when a patient is constantly in fight or flight mode) with palpitations, high pulse rate, feelings of fizzing throughout the body
- As a consequence, being unable to work and lack of concentration, increasingly being unable to leave the house through fear
The mental and emotional load alone from some of these symptoms can be terrifying. Some patients with the condition even go on to develop other conditions, such as an antisocial personality disorder, as they constantly keep to themselves, fearing that others might think they have a psychiatric disorder or a mental illness.
A lot of this is exacerbated by the fact that people don't understand the condition and think it is being "made up"... or "put on"; you would never think those things of an epileptic so why would you of someone with NEAD? Trust me, the seizures are all too real... leaving you completely wiped out for days afterwards. Also, the long term effects of these cannot be good for your system. You can end up with muscle strains and fatigue, suffer falls that can lead to bruising, or sustain cuts and damage to the tissue.
Finding the best treatment plan for someone who's suffering the unexplained symptoms of NEAD can be difficult but may be achieved if only everyone could accept that it's real and look deeply into the root of the problem.
Treatments that standard medicine can provide are only generally through a specialist team of healthcare professionals at The Maudsley, and are predominantly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based. However, other treatment options that can prove very successful are homeopathic medicine and breathwork.
Author and Trusted NTP practitioner
Emma Field Therapies
Emma Field is a fully registered, fully qualified and insured professional and as such is bound by a strict Code of Practice. You can be confident of a high quality, professional treatment. She has many years experience and many happy and healthy patients.