Functional Neurological Disorder (FND)

Understanding Functional Neurological Disorder (FND)

Functional neurological symptoms (FNS) or Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of sensorimotor symptoms that resemble neurological conditions. FND include functional movement disorders and tremors, idiopathic non-epileptic seizures, drop-attacks, visual symptoms such as blindness, photophobia and double vision, speech impairment and stutter, touch sensitivity, chronic pain, gate and balance problems, as well as paralysis and weakness. Cognitive and emotional challenges, memory loss, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, or avoidance often accompany FND. In addition, symptoms of altered awareness, including dissociative symptoms, derealization, and depersonalization, are very common.

Individuals experiencing functional neurological symptoms are often semi-conscious and clients have described that they can hear what is being said, but cannot speak, feel foggy, out-of-their-body, numb, or overtaken by a strong energy. Individuals diagnosed with FND often experience anxiety, depression, symptoms of PTSD, and difficulty concentrating.

Watch Dr. Moenter's contribution to the 2020 FND virtual conference talking about her treatment approach to FND.

Watch Dr. Moenter's Contribution To The 2023 FND & Me Virtual Workshop For Teens With FND.

How is FND diagnosed?

The diagnostic process relies on finding clear positive physical features of the condition which makes FND not a diagnosis of exclusion. Due to similarities, FND can be misdiagnosed as a neurological disorder, and it can take years for the patient to find out that he, she, or they does not actually have a neurological disorder. FND has been diagnosed in children, teenagers, and adults.

The Causes of FND

Contrary to popular belief, anybody can experience the sudden onset of FND. Age, gender, mental health, level of education, or other demographic factors seem to not have direct bearing on the onset of FNS.

Research suggests that an existing chronic illness such as MS or Parkinsons, and/or accumulated stress and trauma in a person’s life can lead to the development of FND. Reports show that approximately 70% of individuals with FND have been exposed to accumulated stress and/or trauma during their life. Underlying conditions are in many cases depression (50-90% of individuals with FND are also clinically depressed), post-traumatic stress disorder (25-58% of individuals are diagnosed with PTSD), and/or anxiety disorders (about 50% of individuals with FND). In a sense, functional neurological symptoms can be seen as a physical manifestation of a dysregulated nervous system.

At the Boulder Center for NeuroHealth we have seen a correlation not only between PTSD and FND, but also between being “highly sensitive” and FND. A highly sensitive person is an individual who has a sensory processing sensitivity, including hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity.

Treatments for FND

If you have been diagnosed with FND you might feel confused. What does this diagnosis mean? Where do you go from here? How can you have symptoms that look like seizures or paralysis but not be diagnosed with a neurological diagnosis such as epilepsy?

Somatic psychotherapy can be useful to help a patient explore, understand and manage the stressors that lead to FND. Identifying precursors, reducing stressors while learning about effective stress coping strategies, working with emotions and belief systems, while treating symptoms of PTSD can all be helpful tools on the journey of reducing or possibly eliminating FND.

Here at the Boulder Center for NeuroHealth we specialize in offering support for the underlying conditions of functional neurological symptoms.

I believe that no one needs to be alone (confused, isolated, hopeless) in this frightening experience and everyone has the ability to walk through and away from the reality of having functional neurological symptoms when educated and equipped with proper tools.

Afra Moenter, Ph.D.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with FND, contact us to see how we can support your path to healing.

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Boulder Center For NeuroHealth – Support for Individuals Diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND)

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