Seizure phobia occurs in nearly one-third of people with epilepsy (PWE), but was mainly associated with variables not related to epilepsy, based on data from 69 adults.

Anxiety and depression are known to affect quality of life in epilepsy patients, and previous studies have shown that anticipatory anxiety of epileptic seizures (AAS) was present in 53% of patients with focal epilepsy, wrote lead author Aviva Weiss of Psychiatric Hostels affiliated with Kidum Rehabilitation Projects, Jerusalem, and colleagues.

“Although recognized by the epilepsy and the psychiatric communities, seizure phobia as a distinct anxiety disorder among PWE is insufficiently described in the medical literature,” they said.

Seizure phobia has been defined as an anxiety disorder in which patients experience fear related to anticipation of seizures in certain situations.

In a study published in Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy, the researchers recruited 69 PWE who were treated at an outpatient clinic. Data were collected from interviews, questionnaires, and medical records. The average age of the participants was 36.8 years, 41 were women, and 41 were married.

Overall, 19 individuals (27.5%) were diagnosed with seizure phobia. Compared with PWE without seizure phobia, the seizure phobia patients were significantly more likely to be women (84.2% vs. 44.2%; = .005) and to have comorbid anxiety disorders (84.2% vs. 34.9%; = .01). Individuals with seizure phobia also were significantly more likely than those without seizure phobia to have a past major depressive episode (63.2% vs. 20.9%; = .003), and posttraumatic stress disorder (26.3% vs. 7%; P = .05).

Seizure phobia was significantly associated with comorbid psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) (36.8% vs. 11.6%; = .034). PNES have been significantly associated with panic attacks, and “all patients with both panic attacks and comorbid PNES were diagnosed with seizure phobia,” the researchers noted. However, no significant association was found with epilepsy-related variables, they said.

A multivariate logistic regression model to predict seizure phobia showed that anxiety and a past MDE were significant predictors; the odds of seizure phobia were 10.45 times higher if a patient reported any anxiety disorder, and 6.85 times higher if the patient had a history of MDE.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the use of semistructured interviews to diagnose seizure phobia, which are subject to interviewer bias, and by the small study population with a high proportion of comorbid PNES and epilepsy, the researchers noted. However, the results support seizure phobia as a distinct clinical entity worthy of management with education, psychosocial interventions, and potential medication changes, they said.

“Development of appropriate screening tools and implementation of effective treatment interventions is warranted for individual patients, combined with large-scale population-targeted psychoeducation, aimed to mitigate the risk of developing seizure phobia in PWE,” they concluded.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This story originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

SOURCE: by Heidi Splete