Are Hidden Brain Seizures Causing Behavioral Issues?

Brain Seizures

The human brain is an electrical powerhouse, generating enough electricity to spark a 20-watt lightbulb. At all times, our brain cells are communicating with each other through the transmission of electrical impulses that are of a very, very low frequency. In some people, however, brain cells fire erratically creating electrical storms, or seizures, in certain parts of the brain. Lasting as little as a few seconds or up to several minutes, seizures may cause a variety of symptoms and have also been associated with a range of behavioral issues, such as attention problems, trouble controlling temper, anxiety, and more. But some seizures can go unnoticed, meaning many people don’t realize that their behavioral issues are rooted in seizure activity in the brain.

3 Common Types of Seizures

Seizures can manifest in various ways, including these 3:

  1. A grand mal seizure will involve a loss of consciousness and convulsions with intense muscle contractions or jerking motions. These can last a few minutes, but when they endure for more than 5 minutes, it is a medical emergency.
  2. Petit mal—or absence—seizures typically last less than 20 seconds and cause a person to “space out,” lose visual focus, blink their eyes rapidly, smack their lips, or have other unusual mouth movements.
  3. Focal seizures can either stem from a small area of the brain and result in minimal symptoms—some of which may be barely noticeable—or involve multiple parts of the brain. These are known as “focal onset impaired awareness seizures” and often last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Symptoms might include:
  • Seeing an aura or having visual distortions
  • Having a sense of déjà vu’
  • Hearing things that aren’t there
  • Feeling fearful or anxious
  • Other unusual sensations or behaviors

Causes of Seizures and Epilepsy

Sometimes, people will have only a single seizure in their lifetime which would be considered a non-epileptic seizure. If they have 2 or more they might get diagnosed with epilepsy, which is considered a chronic neurological disorder that can be caused by:

  • Congenital or hereditary conditions
  • Sensitivity to flashing lights or changes in temperature
  • Acquired brain injury, such as from a stroke, tumor, infection, or lack of oxygen
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Substance abuse, as well as alcohol or drug withdrawal

In addition, there are even cases where the cause of the ongoing epileptic activity is unknown According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 3.4 million people in the U.S. who have epilepsy and almost 500,000 of them are children.

The Value of Brain SPECT Imaging for Seizures

Because of the increased activity in the brain, the location of the seizure can often be identified with certain imaging procedures, including single photon emission computed tomography—or SPECT—which is used to assess blood flow patterns. It identifies 3 important things in the brain:

  • Areas of normal activity
  • Areas with too little activity
  • Areas with too much activity—like that which occurs during a seizure

Regulating institutions in Europe and North America, as well as other places around the world, endorse the use of brain SPECT imaging for identifying the location of the seizure activity. In fact, the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine (CANM) recently updated its guidelines for SPECT. In addition to assessing for seizures, CANM also approves brain SPECT imaging for these indications:

This groundbreaking acknowledgment of SPECT’s capability to identify certain psychiatric conditions is not only a great benefit for patients and physicians in general, but it is also relevant to those suffering from seizures. Using SPECT, a doctor can parse out the underlying cause of some of the more subtle seizure symptoms which might otherwise be attributed to a psychiatric disorder.

Using SPECT, a doctor can parse out the underlying cause of some of the more subtle seizure symptoms such as those that might otherwise be attributed to a psychiatric disorder. Click To Tweet

A Connection to Temporal Lobe Symptoms

The temporal lobes, located on the sides of the brain, are often the site of seizure activity. They are involved with language, memory, sounds, interpreting vision, emotions, and the fight-or-flight system. Consequently, when there is an electrical storm in this part of the brain, these functions can go haywire for a short period of time, which then manifests as unusual symptoms or behavior during the course of the seizure.

At Amen Clinics, our doctors have also observed on SPECT scans that some patients have higher than normal activity in their temporal lobes but don’t actually have seizures. Nonetheless, these patients might be struggling with symptoms such as feeling anxious, spacey, or fearful or even have mild hallucinations. However, on SPECT scans, anxiety disorders, spaciness—which is common in inattentive ADD—or psychotic disorders typically have very different blood flow patterns from unusual temporal lobe activity.  Therefore the treatment strategy that would normally work for these conditions may be ineffective for someone whose symptoms arise from their temporal lobes.

There is a Better Way

This is a classic example of why Dr. Daniel Amen often asks, “How do you know unless you look?” Without having the benefit of SPECT imaging to help with the differential diagnosis, a patient might be given treatments that don’t work, thus further impairing their ability to function as well as they could.

By including imaging as part of a full psychiatric evaluation, the doctors at Amen Clinics are able to pinpoint the underlying areas of brain dysfunction and create an individualized treatment plan to help each patient they treat feel the best that they can.

If you’re struggling with unusual brain symptoms or mental health problems, Amen Clinics is here for you.

We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I have had OCD all my life started having seizures at 57 …was diagnosed with epilepsy and am now on keppra along with lexapro …I so wish that spect scans were covered by insurance…these drugs don’t really help my quality of life…the side effects are worse than the disease😔

    Comment by Joanne Zimmer — September 13, 2021 @ 3:19 AM

  2. My son was diagnosed with infantile spasms at 8months old. Iowa City Children’s Hospital immediately on H.P. Acthar and he was seizure free in about a month in a half. He had a CAT scan and they didn’t find any tumors or know what caused his seizures, he has been seizure free since and I truly believe it was a miracle from God! He is now 8 years old and he has been behind on speech and seems to have a little harder time in school than his twin sister but nothing to be considered alarming. He just had an episode earlier this winter where he was seeing things looked weird. He had an eye exam and his vision is perfect so they diagnosed him with Alice Wonderland Syndrome. Not something that seem to hurt him but with his history we want to to be sure and had a EEG done and a MRI. They said that there were abnormalities in his frontal lobe which was not surprising with his infantile spams and that he was not having seizures that they can see now. I just wandered if you had any suggestions on books or resources that would benefit him and so I can keep his brain as healthy as possible.

    Comment by Jessica Lopez — September 13, 2021 @ 4:44 AM

  3. How much does it cost?

    Comment by art — September 13, 2021 @ 5:54 AM

  4. Does this imaging help with treating non-epileptic seizures as well?

    Comment by Dawn — September 13, 2021 @ 6:49 AM

  5. My daughter had night seizures, because of a brain tumor. Once removed, and after using some anti-seizure medications for a while, she is now fine.

    Comment by Danielle J. Duperret, ND/PhD — September 13, 2021 @ 6:51 AM

  6. Do you accept health insurance?

    Comment by Gloria Garity — September 13, 2021 @ 7:01 AM

  7. Can Petit Mal or Focal Seizures show up on MRI’s?

    Comment by Margaret — September 13, 2021 @ 8:23 AM

  8. For an adult with nocturnal epilepsy what treatment plans would be recommended after a SPECT scan was conducted.

    Comment by Gillian Jeffery — September 13, 2021 @ 9:29 AM

  9. Can these symptoms be caused by a conflict of 2 or more prescription drugs?

    Comment by Myrtle M Walker — September 13, 2021 @ 3:47 PM

  10. Hi Dr Amen,
    I have been following your work for quite some time now. My 8 year old son has recently been diagnosed with Benign Rolandic Epilepsy. He struggles with attention and focus. The epilepsy medication has brought a new layer of behavioural issues. I would looove to get SPECT imaging for him as we haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly how to treat the attention problems.We are based in Sydney, Australia. Any chance you would be visiting our side of the world anytime soon?

    Comment by Zunaira — September 14, 2021 @ 2:17 AM

  11. Hello dr. Amen, Im zainab from Iraq, I have ateenager girl that Has behavioral changes. How can I do SPECT test for her..

    Comment by Zainab Jawad — September 14, 2021 @ 6:09 AM

  12. I suffer few seconds of seizures nowadays . What is the final solution for it .Earlier i had big ones but now it is very less .I want total cure for it.
    Please help

    Comment by Sarbjit — September 14, 2021 @ 6:22 AM

  13. Hello Art, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics offers consultations and different types of evaluations based on the needs of the patient. For information regarding pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 14, 2021 @ 9:32 AM

  14. Hello Gloria, thank you for reaching out. For information regarding pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 14, 2021 @ 9:35 AM

  15. I have narcolepsy and get cataplexy attacks when my emotions positive or negative are strong like laughing hard or crying at a moving song or movie. Is cataplexy a seizure or related to epilepsy? What is going on in the brain during cataplexy? I’d love to see an article discussing this rare experience. An article about narcolepsy would also be appreciated.

    Comment by Renee — September 21, 2021 @ 7:18 PM

  16. Needing for more information my husband is 67years old and is having some type of seizure that a EEG for MRI/CT can can not detect. The closest seizure I can find is non focal . It wont allow his body to go to sleep so he then goes into delusions and hallucination's the longest so far he has gone is 6 days. but once he sleeps he seems to be well and needing physical and occupational therapy please help me if you can

    Comment by Toni O'Brien — January 12, 2023 @ 6:39 PM

  17. Hello Toni, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 19, 2023 @ 8:18 PM

  18. Hi,

    I also have cataplexy and would like to know the answers to the questions asked by Renee above. Thank you

    Comment by Naiara Ribeiro — February 17, 2023 @ 3:32 AM

  19. Hello I am a mum who has a daughter who started to have seizures when she was 13 she was diagnosed wit JME and also has non epileptic seizures her life has been turned upside down. Tia has no other disabilities she struggles and has seizures monthly at a minimum. Apparently getting medication right is trial and error unfortunately more errors!! Life is sad for her she is a bright beautiful girl but sad. We are on our 3rd consultation under John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford England apparently the best. I am not sure if you have any clinics in the uk ? But very interested to explore for Tia to get a stable life. Judy

    Comment by Judy o’keefe — May 12, 2023 @ 2:32 PM

  20. Hello Judy, thank you for reaching out. At this time, we have 11 clinics in the U.S.: For more information about brain SPECT scans, our consultations, and services, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 19, 2023 @ 10:40 AM

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