Childhood Family Dysfunction and Associated Abuse in Patients With Nonepileptic Seizures: Towards a Causal Model

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Abstract

Objective:

A history of childhood sexual abuse is thought to characterize patients with nonepileptic seizures (NES). We tested the hypotheses: 1) that history of sexual abuse is more prevalent in patients with NES than in controls with epilepsy; 2) that such abuse is associated with NES, not directly but because it is a marker of family dysfunction; and 3) that family dysfunction and abuse are, in turn, linked to NES because they increase a general tendency to somatize.

Methods:

We compared 81 patients with NES with 81 case-matched epilepsy patients, using questionnaires to elicit recollections of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse and family atmosphere and to quantify current somatization.

Results:

Although each form of abuse was more prevalent in NES patients, only child psychological abuse uniquely distinguished NES from epilepsy. However, its association with NES was explained by family dysfunction. A general tendency to somatize explained part of the relationship of abuse to NES.

Conclusions:

Abuse therefore seems to be a marker for aspects of family dysfunction that are associated with - and may therefore cause - somatization and, specifically, NES.

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