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  • Updated 11.29.2021
  • Released 10.16.2017
  • Expires For CME 11.29.2024

Epilepsy and psychoses



Psychosis is a term used to describe an abnormal condition of the brain that involves a disruption in reality testing, often including the presence of sensory misperceptions including delusions (fixed false beliefs) and/or hallucinations without insight. Often speech and behavior may also be impaired. Psychotic disorders have been noted to accompany epilepsy and was particularly observed in the French literature of the 19th century. Both affinity and antagonism hypotheses have been postulated and formed the basis for the development of convulsive therapy to treat schizophrenia (31). The phenomenological and physiological relationship between schizophrenia and psychosis of epilepsy has been the nidus of much speculation (16).

Historical note and terminology

In 1839, Esquirol described postictal fury that lasted hours to days, whereas Farlet classified epileptic psychosis into 3 categories: peri-ictal, chronic, and true epileptic psychosis (12). Savage and Clouston observed florid behavioral dyscontrol that most likely occurred as postictal events (12). Hughlings Jackson postulated that postictal psychiatric symptoms were the result of compensational neuronal changes that resulted from seizure activity (12). However, the literature subsequently focused on the phenomena of postictal confusion and delirium.

The presence of psychotic symptoms in people with epilepsy (PWE) can be evaluated by investigating the temporal relationship of symptoms to seizure activity. In a review by Hilger and colleagues, 1434 people with epilepsy were evaluated (09). The overall frequency of psychosis was found to be 5.9% with postictal psychosis (PIP) found in 3.7% and interictal psychosis (IIP) in 2.2% (09). In another review, psychosis of epilepsy was noted to occur with 7 times the frequency of primary schizophreniform disorders observed in the general population (17). Schizophrenia has a point prevalence of 0.4% to 1% in the general population. In a study involving patients from a tertiary care centers, schizophrenia-like psychosis of epilepsy was seen 6 to 12 times more than in the general population (31). It must be remembered that much of these data come from a skewed population sample, which may not be representative of the epilepsy population at large.

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