Open Access Research article

Symptoms of epilepsy and organic brain dysfunctions in patients with acute, brief depression combined with other fluctuating psychiatric symptoms: a controlled study from an acute psychiatric department

Arne E Vaaler13*, Gunnar Morken145, Olav M Linaker15, Trond Sand16, Kjell A Kvistad27 and Geir Bråthen16

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway

2 Department of Circulation and Diagnostic Imaging, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway

3 Division of Psychiatry, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway

4 Division of Psychiatry, Department Østmarka, St. Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway

5 Division of Psychiatry, Department of Research and Development, St. Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway

6 Department of neurology and clinical neurophysiology, St. Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway

7 Department of Diagnostic Imaging, St Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:63  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-63

Published: 30 September 2009



In psychiatric acute departments some patients present with brief depressive periods accompanied with fluctuating arrays of other psychiatric symptoms like psychosis, panic or mania. For the purpose of the present study we call this condition Acute Unstable Depressive Syndrome (AUDS).

The aims of the present study were to compare clinical signs of organic brain dysfunctions and epilepsy in patients with AUDS and Major Depressive Episode (MDE).


Out of 1038 consecutive patients admitted to a psychiatric acute ward, 16 patients with AUDS and 16 age- and gender-matched MDE patients were included in the study. Using standardized instruments and methods we recorded clinical data, EEG and MRI.


A history of epileptic seizures and pathologic EEG activity was more common in the AUDS group than in the MDE group (seizures, n = 6 vs. 0, p = 0.018; pathologic EEG activity, n = 8 vs. 1, p = 0.015). Five patients in the AUDS group were diagnosed as having epilepsy, whereas none of those with MDE had epilepsy (p = 0.043). There were no differences between the groups regarding pathological findings in neurological bedside examination and cerebral MRI investigation.


Compared to patients admitted with mood symptoms fulfilling DSM 4 criteria of a major depressive disorder, short-lasting atypical depressive symptoms seem to be associated with a high frequency of epileptic and pathologic EEG activity in patients admitted to psychiatric acute departments.

Trial registration