The clinical differentiation between simple partial epileptic seizures of temporal lobe origin and panic attacks is often difficult on clinical grounds alone, because both conditions are characterized by common symptomatology which includes the feeling of fear, autonomic system dysfunction, disorientation and alternation of the level of consciousness when these conditions evolve clinically. The symptoms stem from common pathophysiologic and anatomic substrates of these two conditions, localized in the limbic system, especially the amygdala. We present the case of a young woman who had a febrile seizure in childhood and subsequent episodes of fear accompanied by tremor
and possible alteration of consciousness followed by headache. These spells were diagnosed as panic attacks during her teenage years and she was given Clobazam in order to suppress them. The patient responded well for several years without attacks but her symptoms reappeared following discontinuation of her medication in order to conceive. At that time a detailed history was taken from her spouse and further clinical evaluation raised the suspicion of seizures especially due to the fact that her spells were characterized by alteration of consciousness; she was therefore referred for additional investigations which included admission to a monitoring unit for epilepsy. Long-term video-EEG recording revealed the presence of simple partial seizures with secondary generalization confirming the clinical impression. She was subsequently treated with antiepileptic medications; however the patient’s condition worsened to the point where she became pharmacoresistant having failed several antiepileptic drug trials in monotherapy or combination. An MRI scan of the brain revealed the presence of right-sided mesial temporal sclerosis, a known consequence of febrile seizures. Her seizures were nocturnal tonic-clonic and gradually worsened to the point of occurring during most nights. She was therefore referred for a presurgical evaluation which confirmed that the epileptic focus was associated with the area of mesial temporal sclerosis. The epileptic focus was successfully removed from the right anterior temporal lobe and since then she remained free of seizures whereas, in addition, the presumed symptoms of panic attacks also resolved. This case indicates the occasional difficulty in diagnosing simple partial seizures and how it may be confused with psychiatric conditions. Therefore, the treating physician, especially the psychiatrist, should remain vigilant when treating cases of panic attacks, especially when they present with either atypical symptomatology, such as the case described, or when they do not respond to appropriately chosen treatment; such cases may warrant referral for further investigation.

Key words: Epilepsy, panic attacks, video-EEG, pharmacoresistant. 

S.S. Papacostas, P. Myrianthopoulou, S. Georgiades, E.S. Papathanasiou (page 217) - Full article