PNES Mimics Epilepsy

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Chronic anxiety can have a powerful impact on the body, causing severe headaches, digestive disorders, and a weakened immune system. (KFSN)

Chronic anxiety can have a powerful impact on the body, causing severe headaches, digestive disorders, and a weakened immune system. It can also be one cause of a little-known condition that mimics epilepsy, with some jarring side effects.

Thirty-three year old Gretchen Granados takes pleasure in spending time with her husband Jacob, and German shepherd Hans. Three years ago, moments like that were tough to come by. Gretchen was plagued with frequent seizures.

"Her eyes would start to flutter back and forth. She would blink rapidly and then she would become limp," her husband Jacob explained.

Gretchen told Ivanhoe "a lot of the time I knew what was going on but I could not make my body or my voice respond."

For at least two years, she was given meds for anxiety and narcolepsy. Finally, the couple and their doctors thought maybe it was epilepsy, but the medications prescribed only made her condition worse.

After researching the symptoms, Jacob reached out to Professor Daniel Drone of Emory University, an expert in a little known condition called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures or PNES.

"It often occurs in people who have experienced trauma, so maybe they've developed a maladaptive way of dealing with the stress," explained professor Drone.

In Gretchen's case, it wasn't one trauma, but a series of stressors, leaving a beloved taxing job as a Salvation Army pastor, new motherhood, and a move several states away.

"I refused to rest and slow down, and my body finally did it for me." Gretchen recalled.

Gretchen completed a twelve week therapy and counseling program for PNES and the seizures began to lessen in frequency.

"Over the past six month to a year it's been the old Gretchen again." Jacob shared

Gretchen said "I feel like I'm the mother I want to be, the wife I want to be."

According to the epilepsy foundation, as many as twenty or thirty percent of the people who seek treatment for intractable seizures they think are caused by epilepsy, are then diagnosed with PNES.

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