Veteran, 43, learns blurred vision and seizures are result of emotional trauma from military

A veteran who was plagued with unexplained seizures for two years discovered that his attacks were the result of emotional trauma from his time in the military.  

Andrew, 43, from Norwich, began experiencing blurred vision and up to 50 seizures a week paired with uncontrollable convulsions, after falling from scaffolding onto a concrete floor while working as a plasterer. 

The former soldier, who left the military 20 years ago, began suffering with neck pain and severe weakness in his legs, meaning some days he’s forced to walk with a cain or use a wheelchair – but a CT scan of his brain taken at the time showed no damage. 

After being forced to stop working, Andrew still had not had an explanation and appeared on BBC2 series The Diagnosis Detectives, which airs tonight, to try and get to the bottom of his condition. 

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Andrew, 43, from Norwich was plagued with unexplained seizures for two years and appeared on The Diagnostic Detectives to get to the bottom of his condition. Pictured, Andrew wired up to an Electroencephalography (EEG) machine

Andrew, 43, from Norwich was plagued with unexplained seizures for two years and appeared on The Diagnostic Detectives to get to the bottom of his condition. Pictured, Andrew wired up to an Electroencephalography (EEG) machine

Andrew, pictured with partner Connie, began experiencing blurred vision up to 50 seizures a week with uncontrollable convulsions after falling from scaffolding onto a concrete floor while working as a plasterer

Andrew, pictured with partner Connie, began experiencing blurred vision up to 50 seizures a week with uncontrollable convulsions after falling from scaffolding onto a concrete floor while working as a plasterer

Speaking of his accident, Andrew told: ‘I was plasterboarding a ceiling and the scaffold toppled, bucked and I just fell to the floor I think I was knocked out, I’m not 100 per cent sure, but when I came round I was in a lot of pain. ‘ 

Two weeks after his fall, Andrew’s seizures began, sometimes up to nine in the space of one hour, and he told how soon after his attacks started he became scared to leave the house.  

‘There are no seizure free days’, said Andrew, ‘I could have nine in the space of an hour. In the early days I didn’t want to go anywhere, I was scared. I could fall over, fall down stairs, get hit by a car. It’s just really frightening.’ 

Andrew had been working as a self-employed plastered since leaving the military, over 20 years ago, but was forced to stop following the accident, and his long-term partner Connie told of how difficult it was to watch her partner suffer. 

The former soldier (pictured in a wheelchair) began suffering with neck pain and severe weakness in his legs, meaning some days he's forced to walk with a cain or use a wheelchair

The former soldier (pictured in a wheelchair) began suffering with neck pain and severe weakness in his legs, meaning some days he’s forced to walk with a cain or use a wheelchair

‘It’s hard seeing someone you love going through that’, said Connie, ‘Go through that and know you can’t do anything to help.’ 

She went on: ‘I struggle to see him sometimes, when he’s not very well because I think about how he used to be – from the point of being so active and self-employed, it has changed everything. 

‘If I think back, I wouldn’t understand how someone could be absolutely fine one minute and then [be so] out of it the next, until I saw it myself. 

‘I think having a diagnosis would make it easier to explain to people, so they could understand and support him’. 

Andrew was originally sent to Hammersmith Hospital in West London, to see Dr Boon Lim, a cardiologist who suspected his seizures are linked to his heart, and that a drop in blood pressure was triggering a rare kind of faint where the body goes into seizure. 

Dr Boon underwent a tilt-table test on Andrew, which involves changing a person’s positioning quickly and seeing how their blood pressure and heart rate respond.

Dr Boon underwent a tilt-table test (pictured) on Andrew, which involves changing a person's positioning quickly and seeing how their blood pressure and heart rate respond

Dr Boon underwent a tilt-table test (pictured) on Andrew, which involves changing a person’s positioning quickly and seeing how their blood pressure and heart rate respond

The test takes up to an hour and while placing Andrew in an upright position, tests whether one of his episodes is triggered as the blood pools in his feet and the blood pressure begins to drop. 

While he briefly fainted, there is no seizure, meaning the test results did not support Dr Boon’s theory, leaving Andrew without a diagnosis still. 

However Consultant Neurologist Dr Paul Jarman, suspected that the seizures were dissociative, meaning they happen for psychological reasons rather than physical ones.  

After reviewing his medical history once more, Dr Jarman discovered that five years ago, Andrew had a similar cluster of blackouts, which doctors at the time had put down to stress.  

When asked by Dr Jarman about his time in the military, suggesting his stress and anxiety could be triggered by painful memories, he replied: ‘I’d rather not go into it, it is it a difficult subject.’ 

The doctor put his condition down to two possible reasons, the first epilepsy which can be caused by physical trauma to the brain, and the other a functional neurological order, where the brain unconsciously is not able to handle difficult emotions. 

WHAT IS NON-EPILEPTIC ATTACK DISORDER? 

It is currently believed that Non Epileptic Attack Disorder (NEAD) is the brain’s response to overwhelming stress but there may be other causes.

NEAD, or Non Epileptic Seizures (NES) can be divided into two types: organic non-epileptic seizures (physical) and psychogenic seizures (emotional).

Organic seizures have a physical cause. They include fainting and metabolic causes such as diabetes.

Because organic NES have a physical cause, they may be relatively easy to diagnose and treated when the underlying cause is found.   

Psychogenic NES seizures are caused by mental or emotional issues. They may happen when someone’s reaction to painful or difficult thoughts and feelings affects them physically.

Psychogenic seizures include different types, but the most common type of NES is dissociative seizures. These happen unconsciously, which means that the person has no control over them.

NES can be difficult to diagnose because they can appear similar to epileptic seizures.  There are no symptoms that will definitely identify NES from epileptic seizures.   

Psychotherapy is the recommended treatment for NES, and people can recover or reduce their seizures. 

For some people, NES may disrupt their daily life or they may want to avoid activities in case they have a seizure. However, becoming isolated and anxious can may make seizures more likely.

Source: Epilepsy Society   

 

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To confirm that the seizures Andrew were having were dissociative, he was wired up to an Electroencephalography (EEG) machine, so doctors could monitor his brainwaves for 48-hours.    

‘Seizures are terrifying for people who experience them and those around them’, said Dr Jarman.’

‘People who have major seizures are usually not conscious during the seizure itself, and after the convulsion will wake up in a confused state, not knowing where they are or what’s happened to them and it’s extremely frightening.’ 

A few days later the data from Andrew’s tests were analysed and he received the diagnosis, and learned that his seizures were in fact the result of past emotional trauma. 

Consultant Neurologist Dr Paul Jarman (pictured), suspected that the seizures were dissociative, meaning they happen for psychological reasons rather than physical ones

Consultant Neurologist Dr Paul Jarman (pictured), suspected that the seizures were dissociative, meaning they happen for psychological reasons rather than physical ones 

‘I think I’m in a position now to give a definite diagnosis’, said the doctor, ‘The brainwaves were completely normal throughout the attack, which shows that these episodes are not down to epilepsy. 

‘So I think we can say without a doubt, that these are the type of seizures that occur as part of a spectrum of functional neurological disorders, that emotional part of the brain is taking over and causing psychical symptoms.

He went on: ‘Sometimes those experiences in the military can be difficult and sometimes what happens is, years later those thoughts and memories are still there and are coming back, because you haven’t emotionally processed them.

‘What we need to do is get you engaged with a specialist team, who can work through some of the experiences you’ve had in the past.’ 

Reflecting on his diagnosis, Andrew said: ‘I’m angry at myself for not dealing with things sooner, for not speaking about things in the past that potentially has caused all of this.

‘It’s just frightening how your brain can react and have such an effect on the physical you.’

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