Childhood trauma in patients with epileptic vs nonepileptic seizures

Tianren Yang, Caitlin Roberts, Toby Winton-Brown, Michael Lloyd, Patrick Kwan, Terence J. O'Brien, Dennis Velakoulis, Genevieve Rayner, Charles B. Malpas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Childhood trauma has been implicated as a risk factor for the etiology of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES). Relatively little attention has been paid to whether profiles of specific trauma types differ between patients with epilepsy and PNES. Investigating childhood trauma profiles in these patient groups may identify psychological vulnerabilities that predispose to developing PNES, and aid early diagnoses, prevention, and treatment. Methods: Data were collected from two cohorts (nRetrospective = 203; nProspective = 209) admitted to video–electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring units in Melbourne Australia. The differences in Childhood Trauma Questionnaire domain score between patient groups were investigated using standardized effect sizes and general linear mixed-effects models (GLMMs). Receiver-operating characteristic curves were used to investigate classification accuracy. Results: In the retrospective cohort, patients diagnosed with PNES reported greater childhood emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and physical neglect relative to patients with epilepsy. These differences were replicated in the prospective cohort, except for physical abuse. GLMMs revealed significant main effects for group in both cohorts, but no evidence for any group by domain interactions. Reported sexual abuse showed the best screening performance of PNES, although no psychometric scores were adequate as isolated measures. Significance: Patients with PNES report a greater frequency of childhood trauma than patients with epilepsy. This effect appears to hold across all trauma types, with no strong evidence emerging for a particular trauma type that is more prevalent in PNES. From a practical perspective, inquiry regarding a history of sexual abuse shows the most promise as a screening measure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-195
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • childhood trauma
  • dissociative seizures
  • epilepsy
  • functional neurological disorders
  • psychogenic seizures

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