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

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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.


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.


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.


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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