Imitating the sacred disease

Fractal_Brain.jpgNew Scientist reports on a recent study that looks at the differences between epilepsy and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures – a mysterious condition that looks like a standard epileptic seizure (e.g. falling to the floor, limb shaking and unconsciousness) but does not seem to involve any disturbance in brain activity and instead is linked to underlying emotional issues and psychological distress.

It has been suggested that patients with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures consciously fake their attacks, but it now seems that although not related to a disturbance in brain function, the attacks are not under conscious control and seem to be related to conversion hysteria, where psychological stress leads to otherwise unexplained medical symptoms.

There’s more on these type of seizures in a previous post on Mind Hacks, for those that are interested.

A recent study by Dr Steve Chung and his colleagues attempted to distinguish between epileptic and non-epileptic seizures by carefully watching videos of people when they have a seizure.

They noticed that in genuine generalised epileptic seizures, the patients had their eyes open during the attack, whereas those with non-epileptic seizures had their eyes closed.

This can be seen in their video of a genuine epileptic seizure (WMV file) when compared to a non-epileptic seizure (WMA file).

The head and eye turning that occurs at the start of the genuine seizure is typical in some forms of epilepsy, and usually indicates that the seizure starts in the side of the brain opposite to the side of turning.

The ability to easily distinguish between seizure types is important, as genuine seizures are best treated with anti-epileptic drugs, whereas non-epileptic seizures can be treated with psychological therapy.

Link to New Scientist story.
Link to abstract of study from Neurology.
Link to previous Mind Hacks post on non-epileptic seizures.

2 thoughts on “Imitating the sacred disease”

  1. Hi, My name is Whitney and I am 20.
    Thank you for putting this blog up, along with the videos. I have a new onset of epilepsy and people have tried to describe what they look like, but I have never fully understood. And now I know, with no regrets. From what I’ve been told, mine look more like the guy than the girl, which is not exactly refeshing, but enlightening. Its comforting to know that even though I look like that, my friends and family still love me and treat me the same (but of course they’re on my case 24/7). I can’t help what I look like or when I have seizures, so that’s really frustrating. And it seems like no one realizes its pretty life-changing, but at least drugs are helping, mostly, and we have people like you doing research on such subjects. So thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: