There’s a curious case published in the medical journal Epilepsy and Behavior of a young man who had his epilepsy triggered by the sight of stairs. This would cause seizures that would trigger “repetitive hugging and affectionate kissing of one of the people around him”.
Our patient is currently 24 years old. He is a right-handed male with a history of right temporal lobe epilepsy. He had his first seizure when he was 10 years old. His seizures usually started with an aura of a ‚Äúfeeling‚Äù inside his body or abdomen. This feeling, described at times as pain or nausea, lasted a few seconds or a few minutes. His eyes would then widen, he would become confused, and he would look around right and left as if wondering. The seizure would last 1 to 2 minutes with altered consciousness, spitting, and often repetitive hugging and affectionate kissing of one of the people around him.
At times this was followed by head and eye deviation to the left and, sometimes, rotation of the whole body to the left side. Occasionally, he would walk around for a few seconds. These seizures were often precipitated by looking at stairs, whether or not he was walking up the stairs. He learned to avoid looking at stairs to avoid having seizures. He also noted that looking down a flight of stairs did not precipitate his seizures.
I am constantly amazed by both how seizures can be triggered by very specific experiences (such as seeing a certain thing, or hearing a specific sound) and how they can lead to very selective actions.
This is by no means a typical effect of epilepsy but it does raise the interesting question of how these very narrow experiences lead to destabilising brain states which trigger a seizure.
I have heard anecdotal reports from several clinicians that they’ve met patients who can ‘think their way out’ of a seizure by deliberately focusing their thoughts on a specific topic, presumably which reduces the destabilising effect of their original ‘trigger experience’.
I’ve not seen this discussed in the medical literature though, so if you know of any articles that do tackle it, I’d love to hear about them.
Link to PubMed entry for stair triggered epilepsy case.