Self-reporting versus clinical scrutiny: the value of adding questionnaires to the routine evaluation of seizure disorders. An exploratory study on the differential diagnosis between epilepsy and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures

Elisa Bianchi, Giuseppe Erba, Ettore Beghi, Giorgia Giussani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Questionnaires or symptom lists have proved effective for differentiating epileptic seizures (ES) from psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES). However, monitoring the events, corroborated by medical history gathered by experts, remains the gold standard. We directly compared symptoms and characteristic of the events self-reported by patients/eyewitnesses (Questionnaire A/B) with the information contained in the clinical charts of 50 patients with undefined diagnosis undergoing long-term monitoring. Data extracted from medical records were reformatted to fit the questionnaires' templates (A1/B1) for comparison. Quantitatively, self-reported information was considerably greater and more complete. Calculating sensitivity (SE) and specificity (SP) of all variables in the group with confirmed diagnosis, we identified those above the preset thresholds with the potential to discriminate between ES and PNES. Eight predictive variables were common to both methods: head injury, physical/emotional abuse, chronic fatigue (A); talked out of seizures, eyes closed, apnea, and collapsing (B). Eleven predictive variables were specific to direct questioning: preictal headache, bright light, feeling overwhelmed, heart racing, tingling and numbness, postictal trouble speaking, physical pain, history of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), self-inflicted injuries (A); on/off shaking, and side-to-side head movements (B). Thirteen predictive variables were generated by chart review: sleep deprivation, strong emotions/anxiety, preictal headache (warning), nausea/vomiting, history of PNES, cholecystectomy, depression, medications for behavioral problems (A1), sudden start/sudden stop of shaking, both sides shaking, falling during the seizure, feeling confused and disoriented postictally (B1). CONCLUSION: Self-reporting and clinical scrutiny are complementary. Structured questionnaires increase the range of predictive variables and should be utilized routinely to facilitate clinicians' quest for the correct diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-196
Number of pages6
JournalEpilepsy and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019



  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electroencephalography/methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Seizures/diagnosis
  • Self Report/standards
  • Somatoform Disorders/diagnosis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires/standards

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