Mum diagnosed with epilepsy after symptoms dismissed as panic attacks

Madeleine Dippnall's epilepsy symptoms were believed to be panic attacks. (SWNS)
Madeleine Dippnall's epilepsy symptoms were believed to be panic attacks. (SWNS)

A mum has been diagnosed with epilepsy after her symptoms were initially dismissed as panic attacks.

Madeleine Dippnall, 29, was told by doctors that she was suffering from panic attacks caused by depression and PTSD, which she thought may have been caused by the ending of a traumatic relationship.

However, after Dippnall suffered a seizure, she was diagnosed with epilepsy which she says was a ‘relief’ as she now knew what was going on.

During the times Dippnall thought she was having a panic attack, she describes having adrenaline that felt equivalent to if she was on a roller coaster.

"Everything sweats. I'd have to go to the toilet to be sick," she explains. "I'd be hysterically crying. You have this fear of God in you that something awful is going to happen.

"My mum used to put my head under a cold water sink. Sometimes I’d get catatonic. I couldn’t move. I’d go within myself. But if you were looking at me you wouldn’t really know what was going on."

Madeleine with her son. (SWNS)
Madeleine with her son. (SWNS)

It wasn’t until April 2023 that she woke up following a seizure, with the insides of her mouth bleeding.

"My body was cramping all over," she explains. "I had bitten the insides of my mouth. I had a nocturnal seizure, a tonic-clonic [where the muscles twitch and start jerking]. The next night I woke up on the bathroom floor. I said to Chris, my husband, oh my God I think I’ve had a seizure. I went to the GP and he put through an urgent referral. I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy.

"My dad had an instinct all along. He said, 'Those are not normal panic attacks that you're having'. I had a seizure when I was about 19 but it wasn't investigated properly because of the way I reacted to the tests.

"I felt like something was going on and there was something wrong with me. I felt like no one was listening to me."

Since her diagnosis, Dippnall, who is originally from Cornwall, has been put on a medication which has eased her symptoms and allowed her to spend more time with her family and get her graphic design business up and running.

"I’ve made something positive out of this and the business which is doing really well,” she adds. "Since being on the epilepsy medication I haven’t had a single episode and my depression has literally washed away. My husband says the difference is like night and day."

According to Epilepsy Action, panic attacks can look and feel a lot like an epileptic seizure, meaning both conditions have the potential to be misdiagnosed.

While epilepsy can trigger anxiety, and panic attacks could trigger seizures, the key difference is the length in time. Epileptic episodes are generally short, usually less than a few minutes, while panic attacks can last up to 20 minutes.

The NHS says that epilepsy can start at any age, but that onset is most common in children, and in people over the age of 60.

The most common symptom of epilepsy is a seizure, which can affect people in different ways depending on which area of the brain is involved. Seizures can range from a ‘fit', to staring blankly into space, becoming stiff, collapsing, and strange body sensations.

It is important to get medical help as soon as you notice any symptoms.

Additional reporting by SWNS.