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Epilepsia. 1998 Apr;39(4):432-7.

Factors distinguishing families of patients with psychogenic seizures from families of patients with epilepsy.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, SUNY, Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, New York, USA.



Psychogenic seizures (PS) (emotionally based nonelectrical seizures) have been explained by psychodynamics and trauma. However, the family health literature suggests that somatization, of which psychogenic seizures are a form, may run in families and be determined by family patterns of response to distress. This study compared families of patients with PS and those of patients with epilepsy on variables of distress (anxiety and depression) and somatization.


Eighteen patients (9 with PS and 9 with epilepsy) matched for age and education, and their families answered the Health Status Questionnaire (HSQ), the Weinberger Adjustment Inventory (WAI), the Family Emotional Involvement and Criticism Scale (FEICS), Barsky's Somatization Symptom Inventory (SS), and the Dissociation Experience Scale (DES). Family members' scores were averaged to obtain "family scores."


Patients with PS and those with epilepsy did not differ in any of the measures. However, families of patients with PS reported more health problems, distress, and criticism than did families of patients with epilepsy (p < 0.05). Families of patients with PS had increased criticism and somatic problem scores comparable to those of both types of patients.


Although epilepsy causes patients physical and emotional problems, their families are relatively healthy. In contrast, families of patients with PS are more troubled and may unwittingly contribute to PS through family distress, criticism, and tendencies to somatize.

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