Sunday, June 16, 2013

Seizures Due to PTSD and TBI

My husband had several concussions in 2005 while in Iraq. He went through 9 immediate IED impacts and lost consciousness at least on two different occasions.

He was diagnosed with severe PTSD, hearing loss, TBI, and seizures.

He suffers from non-epileptic seizures (also referred to as pseudoseizures, psychogenic or cryptogenic seizures). A doctor at the VA called them stress seizures. Most of them are caused by his anxiety going through the roof. These types of seizures are not caused by abnormal electrical activity of the brain and are not dangerous to the person (besides busting your head and knocking your teeth out when you go down). These episodes look just like a true epileptic seizure in many ways and it is hard to differentiate without the right diagnostic tools like an EEG.

Non-epileptic seizures are normally unresponsive to therapeutic levels of antiepileptic drugs. They will most likely be treated with psychological counseling and medications. Non-epileptic seizures should only occur when awake, not during sleep.

A ‘wonderful’ neurologist told us he doesn't understand why my husband still has this seizure, because he had been told they are not dangerous (this knowledge was supposed to reduce anxiety and therefore the seizures would stop).

A person who has non-epileptic seizures may also have true epileptic seizures. My husband has epileptic seizures caused by his TBI. Epileptic seizures occur when the ‘wiring’ in the brain is malfunctioning. The brain cells are misfiring, so to speak, which causes muscles to contract and the person loses consciousness.

There are several different kinds of seizures: tonic-clonic, atonic, absence, myoclonic, partial, and non-convulsive. Not every seizure makes the body ‘convulse’ like you see in the movies. Sometimes the person just stares straight ahead, or acts like they are drunk or on drugs.

Some triggers I notice with my husband are anxiety and anger, loss of sleep (which we all know comes with PTSD), and flickering lights. Seizures can be triggered by sensory stimuli, such as hot water (bath), or light touch.

Epileptic seizures are treated with medications which should make them more manageable. There are plenty of medication options, so if one doesn't help doctors may try another.

Most of the doctors ask me how his seizures look like, how does he jerk, well even with the best explanation I can come up with it was still not clear to them. They asked me to video tape him, which I did on occasion. It is hard  to get him situated first (make him be as safe as possible) and then to think about the camera to actually tape him is really a tough one (Most of the time I had the end of his seizure on tape, which was not really helpful).

Now here we come to a point to pass out some information about what to do if you come along a person who experiences a seizure.

This information was passed to me by doctors/nurses along the road, and what I learned over the years dealing with my husband’s seizures. I am not a medical expert and not all epileptics are alike, there will always be some exceptions.

Most seizures last a few moments to a few minutes. If a seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes it is recommended to call 911.

Things to do if someone has a seizure:
1. First off stay calm, don’t try to hold the person down.
2. Look at your watch and time the seizures. (It is really hard to guess time, when you are panicked or care for someone in distress)
3. Try to turn them on the side to keep the airways clear.
4. Never ever try to put anything in their mouth (especially your fingers) while they are seizing. It is a myth that they can swallow their tongue. Sometimes they bite their tongue and there will be a lot of blood (this is where #3 comes in handy).
5. Try to keep them safely away from objects they can hurt themselves on, if you have a jacket or pillow rest their head on it.
6. Sometimes they can soil themselves (which is really embarrassing to them, especially in public places). Offer them something to cover up with after they are responsive again.
7. When they come out of it, keep talking to them, reassure them everything is ok. Make sure they know what is going on around them, and that they do not have trouble breathing before you leave them alone or get them home.
If the person who is having a seizure has an ID with ‘Epilepsy’ and it doesn’t exceed 5 min you do not need to call the ambulance.
If you are not sure if the person is an Epileptic, is pregnant, the seizure last more than 5 min, or the person is not responsive after the seizures stops (or can’t breathe) call 911!!!

Now I have one more thing to add we do have a Service dog (SD).

Our dog will try to alert us before he gets a seizure (most of the time he whines, sometimes even barking at him). He will do 2 different things when my husband has a seizure, either he will stay right next to his side laying down (whining and trying to get his attention) or he will try to get someone (he will bark and act out of the norm running back and forth) until someone responds to him. Now I understand that this can be scary for some people but he has always a tag on stating he is a Service dog, and if we are in public places he wears a SD vest or a bandanna with embroidering on it. Those dogs are highly trained (which costs a lot of money) and if you see one please check what is going on. Most Service dog vests have patches on them, stating what the SD is used for. Ours says ‘Seizure alert/PTSD’. This should give you a clue about the person’s condition when they are in distress!

Never leave the dog behind if the person gets taken by an ambulance. Those animals have a special bond to their owner (they are not pets!!!)  They are considered a prosthetic devise as a cane or a wheelchair would be. Make sure they are safe as well as their owner!

Submitted By: Sandra T.


  1. I understand these seizures well. They are called Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES). My recently adopted daughter whom we rescued from a life of abuse, torment and terror has had more than 200 seizures in five years. Far fewer now, since many, many EMDR therapy sessions. You can read about PNES at:

    Google 'PNES' for more information, but beware of a lot of bulldiddley and a widespread lack of understanding of PNES and their relation to sudden adreneline (Norepinephrine) release during a PTSD attack.

  2. After reading your story, it described my husband to a T. I would like to exchange stories and your current treatment plans. Please contact me at

  3. The last email I sent, I put the wrong email. Please email me at or contact me by phone 870.703.3898 my name is Alicia.