Chris Brown’s seizure on Friday was reportedly a result of emotional stress and “negativity.” However, unless he has an underlying seizure disorder such as epilepsy, it is very unlikely.
And while many people believe that stress can cause seizures in people with epilepsy, even that connection has little scientific proof.
Emotional stress, on the other hand, can cause activity that look like seizures. But, they are not actually a result of abnormal brain activity. These are instead called pseudoseizures, also known as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. These seizure-like movements stem from psychological causes and are strongly linked to how people react to and cope with stress.
To put it simply: pseudoseizures are considered a psychiatric condition, not a seizure disorder.
Unfortunately, pseudoseizures are hard to distinguish from epileptic seizures to the naked eye. They can, however, be differentiated on an EEG — a test that shows electrical spikes during irregular brain activity – but when interpreted by epilepsy specialists. That’s because neurologists who are not specialists can misread EEGs on pseudoseizure patients and, as a result, wrongly diagnose them with epilepsy. These patients are then treated with medications that they don’t need and that won’t help their (psychological) ailment. To make it more difficult, some people with epilepsy also have pseudoseizures.
Outside of epilepsy, true seizures can also be caused by factors that throw off the brain’s electrical circuit such as:
- Abruptly stopping alcohol after drinking on a regular basis
- Cocaine or crack cocaine use
- Abruptly stopping seizure medications after daily use (like the oft-abused Xanax)
- Low blood sugar in diabetic patients
- Specific prescription and over-the-counter drugs
- Abnormal electrolytes, such as low sodium
- Tumor or brain aneurysm
It seems like the verdict is: either Chris Brown had a true seizure and emotional stress wasn’t the real cause, or he had a pseudoseizure and it was, in fact, triggered by emotional stress.
Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for MSNBC’s theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey and clinical instructor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty.