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COVID-19 Epilepsy & Seizures Featured

Managing epilepsy during COVID-19

Epilepsy is the most common serious neurological disease affecting over 50 million people worldwide and an estimated 5 million plus people in India.

People with epilepsy have recurrent, unprovoked seizures and these have to be differentiated from provoked seizures that follow a tumour, stroke, infection, inflammation, metabolic disease (like very low or very high blood sugar) and so on. A seizure is an electrical storm in the brain; a short circuit in the brain’s normal electrochemical activity.

World Epilepsy Day or Purple Day just passed us on 26th March. In this time of COVID let’s ask ourselves what the implications are for people with epilepsy. Here are some common FAQs.

Can COVID-19 cause epilepsy?

According to the International League Against Epilepsy, there is no direct evidence that the coronavirus infection can directly cause epilepsy. However, like all infections that can cause high fever, breathing difficulties and other problems with normal functioning, being infected can result in a person who is susceptible to epilepsy, suffer breakthrough episodes.

Does epilepsy or its treatment make one more susceptible to COVID-19?

At present there is no information to suggest that either epilepsy or its treatment (anti-epileptic drugs, most commonly) will in any way make a person susceptible to COVID-19. Indeed, there is no suggestion that people with epilepsy have any special immune vulnerability either. However, the stress a pandemic of this nature can induce in people, the sleep deprivation and attendant lifestyle changes, can all make a person already vulnerable to seizures, express them more frequently.

What should I do if I have a seizure in this time of COVID-19?

If one has never had a seizure before in their lives, it is obviously imperative that they consult a neurologist, urgently and undergo relevant investigations as advised. As most routine clinics are cancelled, the emergency room of a hospital may be a better point of access at this time. However, for people with pre-existent epilepsy, a single seizure is no reason for panic. Call your usual doctor and discuss what you can do to manage your epilepsy better; follow your doctors advice.

Avoid visiting clinics and hospitals for single breakthrough seizures unless you feel it is absolutely necessary. However, if seizures cluster together, or indeed a person suffers continuous seizures with no recovery of consciousness in-between, what is called “status epilepticus”, it must be treated as an emergency.

What precautions should a person with epilepsy take at this time?

People with epilepsy are advised to stock up adequately on their anti-epileptic drugs, as even missing a single dose can cause a breakthrough seizure for some. Compliance with drug treatment is extremely important for people with epilepsy. Stress is inevitable and managing it with meditation, yoga, a healthy diet and lifestyle are all possible. Many good online tutorials exist on all the above. If one is very stressed out an online consultation with a psychiatrist or psychologist can be helpful. Sleep deprivation is another risk factor for people with epilepsy; adequate rest and sleep are therefore very important. Sleep can be disturbed due to stress or indeed due to excessive exposure to digital media — televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones.

Good sleep hygiene: making oneself clean and comfortable before going to bed, making the temperature and lighting in the room ambient and suitable to the extent possible, putting way all digital media and retiring to bed with either a book or gentle instrumental music (if one must have a distraction) are all encouraged.

Are there special precautions?

Unless one is a healthcare worker or otherwise at high risk of exposure, no special precautions are recommended. If a person with epilepsy belongs to this category, they are encouraged to speak with their usual doctor about drug prophylaxis and other precautions. For all other people with epilepsy, the principles of social distancing, avoiding unnecessary contact with people outside one’s immediate family, or indeed taking due care around anyone who is symptomatic of COVID, is adequate.

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Buddhi Stories Epilepsy & Seizures Featured Memory Problems

Rare illness, caught on time

Seizures, memory loss, aggression: symptoms that left a television news editor unfit to work. Until a providential diagnosis helped him make a remarkable recovery.

When R, a television news editor in his 40s, came to us a couple of years ago, he was suffering from seizures, poor short-term memory, mood swings, irritability, suspiciousness and aggression. Although he had a great track record at work, his condition had left him unfit to return to his job at a well-known television company. We found that his symptoms were provoked by limbic encephalitis, an antibody syndrome where the body’s immune system attacks rather than defends it. Apart from repeated seizures, the condition, which affects parts of the brain that control memory and emotion (the temporal lobes), had left him with a set of neurobehavioral symptoms.

While treating him for this, a timely visit from Oxford by Angela Vincent, a world renowned expert on antibody syndromes, in 2014, helped us diagnose R with a second, hitherto undiagnosed — and rare — antibody-mediated syndrome called NMDAR 1. We gave him a second course of intravenous steroids (the first having been given during initial presentation) following this discovery, and saw a distinct improvement in his memory and behaviour.

Evaluating R in some detail, we found he had severe deficits in cognition, with very poor ability to remember any new information. Indeed, he took quite a while to even become familiar with our team that was meeting him each day.

Our integrative rehabilitation programme for him was, therefore, focused on memory retraining and behavioural management, but included shirodhara (an Ayurveda treatment with brain-behaviour focus), acupressure, reflexology and physiotherapy. He was also given a combination of drugs to control seizures, enhance memory and modulate behaviour.

Counselling the family, helping them understand his predicament — that his symptoms were not deliberate or put on but an outcome of brain injury — was also part of the treatment. Working with his employer, who was concerned about R’s inability to do even some simple crucial functions, and prescribing a time-frame for our continued efforts, was also essential, helping R retain his job. Indeed, his immediate boss, a popular media personality, visited the centre to discuss R’s condition.

R’s recovery over two years was stormy. Seizure clusters, poorly controlled (pre-existing) diabetes, and an extraordinary reaction to a drug prescribed for seizures resulted in three emergency hospital admissions.

Also, R had great difficulty in accepting changes at home, such as his wife taking on decision-making and financial management roles. Paranoia and disturbed sleep taxed him and his interpersonal relationships greatly. At work, a change in the software platform magnified R’s difficulties. No longer could he work on auto-pilot; skills learnt over two decades were suddenly obsolete.

Supported by a caregiving trinity — family, employer and medical team — working in tandem, R managed to overcome these multifaceted problems.

Two years on, the transformation in R is remarkable. He is seizure-free, composed, communicates clearly, manages well at work having learnt to use the new software platform effectively, and enjoys a close trusting relationship with his family. He still has some residual memory and cognitive dysfunction and attends our centre for weekly cognitive retraining sessions. He continues to take some medication to control seizures and improve his memory.

This father of two, the sole breadwinner of a young family, managed to retain his job and win back his life because of a providential and timely diagnosis.

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Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Buddhi Stories Epilepsy & Seizures Featured

Bharath – Emerging From The Shell

Biography

By 9 months of age the infant showed regression in eye-contact and response to call. By the time the child was 1 year old, the father left home, never to return, but provided financial support from afar. Was he shirking his paternal role towards his child with developmental disability? But the well-educated mother took matters in hand, moved in with her parents for logistical and emotional support for the whole family, and devoted her time to Bharath, to quell his hyperactivity at two years and to push his delayed language acquisition to the next level. Paediatric consultations for guidance, regular speech therapy and early Montessori schooling saw Bharath settle comfortably in a mainstream school, with

age-appropriate range of receptive and expressive language, with reading and writing in place by 6 years of age. He continued to be a slow learner.

Was he shirking his paternal role towards his child with developmental disability?

However, the challenge for the family has been the inevitable behaviour problem of ASD – (differently wired!) which is often traced to poor sensory integration, resultant poor holistic perception, hyperactive emotional network with weak frontal lobe inhibitory commands to suppress the eruptions of uncontrolled energy. Bharath’s unprovoked emotional outbursts, with violence directed mainly against his mother (or in destroying objects), is partly an expression of internal hurt, as he is not amnestic of the event, and shows remorse for the behaviour in recent times. He insists on his mother’s undivided attention and spares her little time to devote to his elder sister. These outbursts are fewer over the past 1.6 years since he joined Vidya Sagar, as he receives multimodal therapy, is on regular anticonvulsant, antipsychotic medication and SSRI, and his energies have been channelled, with the focus on academics. He has cleared the Open School Board Examinations in Home Science, English and Computer Data entry, without scribe assistance, and is preparing for the Business Studies examination in October 2017. He will complete all five subjects required for the Board’s 10th Std. Secondary School Certificate in April 2018, when he does the bakery/painting examination – truly a most commendable effort!

With his self-esteem and self-confidence rising, we find Bharath come out of his shell and mingle socially with his peer group at school and with relatives and friends who visit their home. He is Secretary of the local Interact Club, has joined NCC as a cadet and follows cricket and movies on TV with keen interest. He tends to talk excessively, lacks discrimination and even reveals close family concerns to outsiders. The client had seizure disorder which is moderately controlled on medication. Currently he is on the following medication: Syrup Sodium Valproate Extended Release, Zolpidem (Non Benzodiazepine hypnotic), Aripiprazole (Aripiprazole is an antipsychotic preparation and helps control irritable behavior such as aggression, temper tantrums, and frequent mood changes in ASD).

Assessment Reports

The Clinical Specialists Observations –

An intact systemic examination. Neuropsychiatric Inventory reveals intact Higher Mental Function (HMF), reactive affect, normal intelligence and no focal deficit.

EEG Report :

Awake and resting EEG conducted on a standard 10-20 system. Background activity is alpha at 9-10 Hz, with bilateral, generalized paroxysmal sharp wave activity. The EEG is suggestive of seizure disorder.

DST:

Age of 12 years was attained, based on parameters of functioning.

ISAA SCORE:

71- indicating mild autism

CBCL:

Mainly overeating and talking excessively and indiscriminately.

VSMS:

Obtained a social age of 8 years and 9 months, with a social quotient of 58, indicating mild deficits in social adaptive functioning.

ICF Neurodevelopmental Disability Assessment

No structural deficits observed and no limitation of function, minimal activity limitation. Mother and Institution proved to be facilitators.

Response To Therapy

As he developed chicken pox, a break in therapy had to be instituted. Improvement in sleep and behavioural problems were reported at the end of the sessions.

Reviewed One Month After The End Of Therapy

His aggressiveness which was already on the mend, was helped by the therapy to calm him down further. He was advised to continue the medication regimen as before.

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Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Buddhi Stories Epilepsy & Seizures Featured Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Shanthi – The Time Keeper

Biography

The antenatal period was moderately smooth. Shanthi was born at full term by natural delivery with a birth weight of 3.45 kgs. The birth cry was delayed, with hypoxia and neonatal seizures, and the neonate required oxygen and ventilatory support for a week. By 21 days of birth, she was re-admitted with high fever and respiratory distress with a diagnosis of pneumonia. Bouts of diarrhoea continued till the third year. There was delay in cognitive, language and motor developmental milestones and she uttered the first meaningful word and walked unsupported only at the age of 4. To add to this, she showed autistic-like symptoms of bizarre behaviours and auditory hypersensitivity. Covering both ears, which she repeats often – even while watching a movie on TV – is in all probability a learned behavior linked to anxiety. Children with ASD are known to become fearful of potential unpleasant noises.

Shanthi’s anxiety repertoire extends to strong separation anxiety of a pathological nature, and that may account for her daily ritualistic morning tantrum when she has to attend school. She watches the clock every moment and believes in an obsessive-compulsive manner that her life and the life of her family members revolve around the ticking of the clock. OCD traits are not uncommon in adolescent females with ASD. She awaits her father and elder brother’s return from the day’s work at the expected hour. With even a 10 minute delay, she paces the floor and shortly after, all hell breaks loose! Curiously, she throws a lesser tantrum even if they return from work early, as this disturbs her need for ‘sameness’ and routine.

Shanthi is selectively aggressive and violent at home, beating her mother, the primary caregiver, even without provocation, pinching the elder brother if he switches on the TV without her permission, and breaking objects. While at home, she opposes the figure of authority with screams, when she does not wish to satisfy a demand, bordering on oppositional defiant behaviour but shows remorse when the mother cries.

Attention-seeking, access to preferred items/activities and elimination of demands may be the likely reasons for her to maintain this aberrant behaviour cluster. She has poor self-care skills and is partially dependent on the mother for ADL, especially in areas of personal hygiene.

At school she is a near gem, except for occasionally kicking a classmate for ‘not falling in line’. Then there is the familiar, prolonged holler between class sessions in which she indulges. Her expressive language is poor, but she receives, comprehends and has good retentive power. Immersed in academics, while at school, she has completed two subjects (Science and English) of the Open School Examination with scribe assistance.

With even a 10 minute delay, she paces the floor and shortly after, all hell breaks loose!

Buddhi Notes : Prodigiously Particular

There is little disposition to generalise from these particulars or to integrate them with each other, causally or historically, or with the self. In such a memory there tends to be an immovable connection of scene and time, of content and context (a so-called concrete-situational or episodic memory)-hence the astounding powers of literal recall so common in autistic savants, along with difficulty extracting the salient features from these particular memories, in order to build a general sense and memory. It is characteristic of the savant memory (in whatever spher-visual, musical, lexical) that it is prodigiously retentive of particulars.

Oliver Sacks, Neurologist & Writer on the Savant Brain

Assessment Reports

The Clinical Specialists Observations –

Intact systemic examination. Flaccid tone of all muscles, muscle power 4+, diminished deep tendon reflexes and plantars bilaterally flexor.

EEG Report :

The sleep EEG shows bilaterally symmetrical tall sharp waves in stage 2 sleep. This is an abnormal record.

DST:

Age of 7 years was attained based on parameters of functioning

ISAA SCORE:

73 – indicating mild autism

CBCL:

Externalizing syndrome – aggressive behaviours with co-morbid. Internalizing syndrome – withdrawn/depressed and anxious.

VSMS:

Social age of 8 years and 9 months, and a social quotient of 19, indicating profound deficit in social adaptive functioning.

ICF Neurodevelopmental Disability Assessment

Issues present in mental, neuromuscular and movement areas. No major structural deficits. Significant issues present in the subdomains of learning, applying knowledge, communication, general tasks and demands.

Response To Therapy

Shanthi co-operated for the therapy. Though there was no significant benefit, her mother was pleased with the procedure and requested a longer period of therapy.

Prof. Dr. ESK and the Vidya Sagar team felt that the physical disability status required review, and the Trimed-Neurokrish senior physiotherapist was called in to assess the client. The report reads as follows:

“Normal muscle tone, muscle power 4+, with low endurance. Flat feet with externally rotated lower limb while walking. Atypical gait. Decreased fine motor skills but good gross motor activity.”

The unacceptable behaviours may be explained by the biopsychosocial model of multifactorial risk factors. Structured behavioural modification sessions along with parental skill training may benefit Shanthi and reduce parental stress.

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Buddhi Stories Epilepsy & Seizures Featured

Asma – Building Rapport

Biography

Asma was the second born of two daughters to parents who were both working professionals and of a middle class background. Since the mother had some minor complication in the first delivery and as there was an eight-year gap between the two pregnancies with maternal age at 30 years, a planned, elective Cesarean was carried out. The delivery was conducted at term and the developmental milestones of infancy and early childhood were normal.

The maternal grandparents lived close to Asma’s home and looked after the two grandchildren when the parents were at work. In the Indian grandparenting context, this was carried out diligently, with focus on every aspect of traditional child development, covering the spectra of nutritional requirements, discipline, academic performance and physical, mental and spiritual growth. Asma’s attention-seeking behavior, temper tantrums and need to win every event she took part in might have been influenced by the environmental situation, but it was distinctly excessive on any account.

Exploring the Condition

Premorbidly, Asma was described as being intelligent, cheerful, sociable, enthusiastic about participation in extracurricular events like dance and music, and though a slow learner at school, she was keen on overcoming her academic deficiencies with added effort, which the teachers recognized and were lenient when marking her.

Asma’s clinical problems manifested at the age of six years, with two types of bizarre episodes of a repetitive, stereotypic nature. The first involved jumping up and down 10-20 times, in a seated position, clapping hands and bursting into unprovoked laughter, which could not be described as totally mirthless. She was aware and able to answer questions during the episodes, which were associated with sweating and terminated, after a couple of minutes in a cough, as if she was choking. These episodes occurred frequently.

The second type, 15-20 episodes in 24 hours, occurred both while awake and in sleep initially, and later was confined to the sleep stage. The attack was of arousal, stare, movement of hips  up and down 5-10 times rhythmically (pelvic thrust), followed by a smile, hyperventilation and incomprehensible muttering for a few minutes and back to sleep. Initially she was responding to call during these episodes, but later she became unresponsive right through the episode. After basic seizure screening, in a city Epilepsy Clinic, which included neurological assessment, EEG and MRI neuroimaging, anticonvulsant therapy had been initiated, with some control of the frequency of seizures. Meanwhile, behavioural patterns, which were a clear departure from the norm for Asma had peaked, which caused great alarm to the family and school teachers at the mainstream school where she had studied from lower kindergarten class. The Principal of the school, who had known many childhood neuropsychiatric problems sorted out for them by the TriMed and Neurokrish team, referred the child to the medical facility, with a word of encouragement to the dispirited parents.

Our Healing Approach

When Asma presented to our service, accompanied by her parents, a month after the initial symptoms, she had clusters of 5-6 one-minute seizure episodes packed into 1 hour of daytime sleep and 3-4 two-minute nocturnal episodes. Bedwetting occurred once in two days, and only at night. The abnormal behaviours ranged from hyperactivity, aggression, abusive behaviour, biting, spitting, excessive and disorderly eating, to bullying other children, lying and employing overtly manipulative behaviours and defiant behaviour towards figures of authority. This was reported after detailed assessment by the Child Behaviour Therapist of Neurokrish.

The TriMed-Neurokrish team was alerted to gear up to fulfil their individual and collective roles in remedying the enormous challenge posed by Asma’s health problems. They had to bring into action (with mild variations, to suit the individual and the situation) the protocol for ‘Comprehensive Care for Epilepsy’- a best practice model for a resource-poor country like India, developed by Dr. E. S. Krishnamoorthy, to suit the sociocultural milieu and fine-tuned over the years of its use by him and his team members.

The basic requirement is a multidisciplinary team, which provides treatment, therapies, counselling and hand-holding for the patient and parents to get over the worst initial phase and to participate with hope even as they witness a palpable shift towards the positive phase of patient management.

Detailed medical and neurological examination of Asma revealed no overt clinical markers – neurological, endocrinal or genetic, suggesting a developmental disability or heritable trait. Repeated electroencephalograms (EEG’s) were abnormal with bilateral spike and wave dysfunction but failed to reveal any localization or lateralization of epileptiform activity. There was no suggestion of any syndromic epileptic disorder. Detailed testing of hematological, biochemical, endocrinal and metabolic, infectious and inflammatory parameters was non-contributory. Repeated MRI scans were taken, including  a 3 Tesla MRI scan, the last, to define even a minute lesion if present It failed to reveal any neurodevelopmental markers of significance. We looked for hippocampal sclerosis, cortical dysplasia and hypothalamic hamartomas in particular and these were eliminated.

It was the turn of the clinical psychologist to assess the patient using standard assessment scales; Binet-Kamat Test for general mental ability, screening test for specific learning disability, NIMHANS Neuropsychological Battery for Children for profiling the neuropsychological component and Raven’s Control Projection Test, to assess the child’s attitude towards parents, friends, likes, dislikes, fears and worries.  On these tests, she was found to have bright normal intellectual ability with an IQ of 119, mild difficulty in (the ‘three R’s’ as they were referred to in the colonial days! – ‘a’ being silent in arithmetic in its verbal rendering) reading, writing and arithmetic. She fell behind what was expected at her age. She also had problems in the areas of working or online memory, comprehension, attention (more frontal lobe related), visuospatial ability and mild memory deficit.

The projection test revealed “fighting with friends, problems at school and fear of ghosts”. While the child was cooperative and it was possible for the psychologist to establish rapport with her easily, she had a tendency to stray into phases of inattention, verbosity, playfulness and gnosis. This resulted in tests being incomplete. Given her general levels of comprehension, her ‘show of indifference’ to the overall predicament struck one as being altogether incongruous.  

“The basic requirement is a multidisciplinary team, which provides treatment, therapies, counselling and hand-holding for the patient and parents to get over the worst initial phase…”

The Diagnosis

Asma was diagnosed to have epilepsy with complex partial seizures originating from frontal lobe. Behavioural problems are known to occur in complex partial seizures of frontal origin, as are the selective areas of learning disability. Her inability to keep up with the class, further aggravated the abnormal behaviour, as she was obsessed with being a winner every time.

The child was started on Levetiracetam and Clobazam, two of the anticonvulsants in the list of drugs of choice for this type of seizure disorder, in a girl child of pre-pubescent age. Risperidone in small doses was introduced in an attempt to control difficult behaviours. Multidisciplinary interventions included behavioural therapy, neurodevelopmental and task-based occupational therapy (specifically with focus on attention, fine motor skills and handwriting) and remedial educational support after school for dysgraphia and dyscalculia. With family counselling, it was possible to persuade the family to cooperate even more, as they developed awareness of the child’s genuine health problem and the basis of the multidisciplinary approach. The management protocol was complimented by working with the school, counselling the Head and the teachers, developing a joint statement of special needs and building a therapeutic alliance with her concerned but informed and enthusiastic parents and grandparents. Developing a process of continued and consistent communication between the family, school and treatment team was well established, and continued over several years.

Over weeks, with titration of anticonvulsant drug dosage, her episodes remitted. With optimal use of risperidone and the therapies, her behavior pattern also became more manageable. Her problems with inattention, learning and academic performance did however continue. Although through the six-year period of comprehensive care, Asma had managed to remain in mainstream education, and continued to work with her behavioral therapist and special educator, she was advised by Dr. Krishnamoorthy to drop a year and to consider more flexible educational streams in order to cope and with less tension all round, as stress of studies, a board exam to face, failures etc., could exacerbate the seizures and the behavioural problems. Following this  advice and guidance, her parents sought admission for Asma in a city special school offering the National Open School stream. This stream allows choice of subjects with which the candidate is comfortable and he/she can take the school leaving examination, covering 2 or 3 subjects at a time at a hassle-free pace.

Epilepsy

The onset of any form of epilepsy can be devastating to the patient and family. It may repeat frequently or be moderate to severe, and persist through the lifespan, affecting education, employment, marriage and even independent living. Early diagnosis and treatment with anticonvulsants is essential. What is equally important is to have continued specialized and comprehensive epilepsy care to give the person with epilepsy a quality of life. Complex partial epilepsy of frontal origin are very uncommon, and can pose a diagnostic dilemma, unless the clinician has a clear knowledge of the condition. This is where a health care provider can draw from literature on the subject and know what others have said about it. A much cited author Williamson (1985), described “the complex partial attacks of frontal origin as brief, frequent attacks, complex motor automatisms, kicking, thrashing, pelvic thrusting, vocalization, while consciousness is maintained”, pretty much what our patient presented with.

Braakman (2012) undertook a comprehensive neuropsychological study of 71 children with cryptogenic (with no detectable lesion) frontal lobe epilepsy  (FLE) to report that,  “Across measures, the patients demonstrated a host of cognitive and behavioral impairments”, which again goes with Asma’s clinical picture and further confirmed by the presence of gelastic epilepsy.  Gelastic epilepsy (‘laughing epilepsy’- Gelastikos in Greek meaning laughter) is a very rare epilepsy form, and is most frequently due to a benign tumour in the hypothalamus, but may also originate from the frontal or temporal lobe. Unnwongse (2010) recorded the symptomatic zone of laughter in the frontal lobe of a patient with gelastic epilepsy, employing intracranial video EEG. Benge (2014) observed that Executive Functioning, which is the ability to initiate volitional responses, plan, decide, and monitor performance is one of the most frequently impaired cognitive constructs in FLE. The frontal lobes have a critical role to play in memory functions as well, including organization and encoding of information to be learned, memory retrieval, and prospective memory. Attention and working memory difficulties may add to the cognitive deficit.

With all these areas of deficit, it is not surprising that the patient manifest learning disability. The clinical psychological assessment at baseline with performance score recording, when the patient started the treatment regimen, followed once in 3-6 months, will give a clinical evaluation of the progress, status quo or even regressive tendency, correlating with the real world patient’s all round performance, and carry with it projection and prognostication value. 

  • Braakman HM, Ijff DM, Vaessen MJ, Debeij-van Hall MH, Hofman PA, Backes WH, et al. Cognitive and behavioural findings in children with frontal lobe epilepsy. Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2012; 16: 707-715.
  • Williamson PD, Spencer DD Complex partial seizures of frontal origin Ann Neurol 1985 Oct.; 18,(4), 497-504
  • K. Unnwongse,  Wehner T,  Singaman W Gelastic Epilepsy and the anteromesial superior frontal gyrus Epilepsia Vol 51, issue 10, 19th March 2010
  • Jared F Benge, J Michael Therwhanger, Batool Kirmani The Neuropsychology of Frontal Lobe Epilepsy: A Selective Review of 5 Years of Progress. J. of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Special issue on Epilepsy, May 2014, 2 (3), 1057

Our Focus:

Comprehensive Epilepsy Care

Comprehensive Epilepsy Care is about targeting patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals and society at large with focus on helping the person with epilepsy minimize stigma, achieve optimal activities of daily living (ADL), health related quality of life (HRQoL); social, educational and occupational milestones. It enquires into the goal of each treatment or therapy employed within a time frame, while including the patient’s (and their relatives) subjective evaluations and perspectives. There is considerable evidence to suggest that information, education and understanding help people deal with their condition better, as ‘knowledge is power’. There is also evidence in epilepsy that psychosocial interventions improve outcome. For the team to plan the intervention effectively, it is imperative that the problems diagnosed in the clinical or lab setting is converted to understanding their real world correlates and this derived knowledge is applied towards holistic and individualized patient care.

Looking Ahead

Asma has remained seizure free, has not shown any further behavioral decompensation and remains aligned with the therapeutic team and school. The parents express their heartfelt thanks everytime they come to TriMed for follow up. The Child Behaviour Therapist, in her inimitable way says that she will take Asma’s self confidence and self esteem to the next level as she enjoys total rapport with Asma (as with other children), teases and chides her and in turn hugs her to show appreciation. The Trimed-Neurokrish team is happy to deliver patient-centred, holistic healthcare with patience and diligence as a team in the midst of a modern consumerist healthcare environment.

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Buddhi Stories Epilepsy & Seizures Featured Memory Problems

Joseph – His Unedited Life

Biography

Equipped with a Masters in Political Science, a supportive wife and 2 young children and a video-editing job in a reputed TV channel, which he carried out with a natural flair, Joseph had his stars to thank for a comfortable and fulfilling life. He had always been hardworking, an amiable companion at work, a good husband and a loving father. It was not just the sudden onset of seizures that disrupted his life flow, but the inability to work, the prominent cluster of neurobehavioural symptoms, the agitation, the paranoia, which mounted within a few weeks of the seizure onset. Back at work after recovery from the subacute phase, he could not perform. To make matters worse, the software of the editing platform had been updated with a newer version, during the period of his absence!

When Joseph presented to us over three years back with a cluster of seizure episodes, delirium and subsequent neurobehavioral symptoms, one needed to step back and view the sequence of events that led to this acute/subacute symptom complex that altered the course of his life so dramatically. The hospital which had received Joseph as an emergency had done well to manage the acute phase of the illness. The patient was diabetic and on oral medication with moderate control of blood sugar levels. Other laboratory parameters were within the normal range. The MRI showed bilateral hippocampal atrophy and the EEG recorded bilateral epileptiform dysfunction. A course of IV methylprednisolone brought about some control of the acute phase of the illness.

Exploring the Condition

However, Joseph continued to have seizures, poor recent memory, mood swings, irritability and aggression. He was unable to return to work both due to cognitive deficits which acted as impairment to his job performance and also due to poor social tolerance, to interact with team members. This came to the notice of the TV channel in which he was Senior Video Editor and the managerial staff of the channel took it upon themselves to support and take an active role in the neurorehabilitation  process of the patient. It was then that they stumbled upon Neurokrish – The Neuropsychiatry Center where they met Dr. Ennapadam S Krishnamoorthy. After a detailed interdisciplinary evaluation of his clinical profile, a discussion was held with the family and employer’s Chief Medical Officer on Joseph’s protracted cognitive and neurobehavioural sequelae and its impact – personal, familial and occupational. Concerned that their key employee should continue to work with them, the employer readily offered to support his care in all possible ways. The family too was committed to helping him get back on his feet.

Most importantly, the doctor was the purveyor of good news – that recovery from the ravages of a significant brain inflammation was possible, with medication, prolonged therapy and  psychosocial support. “Patience and gentle persuasion are the key” he said, in a convincing voice, persuading and encouraging patient, family and employers, through the long dreary days and months of targeted therapy.

Understanding Joseph

The enormity of the challenge of comprehensive neurorehabilitation for Joseph descended on us, fully, only when the clinical psychologist along with some other TriMed-Neurokrish team members, tried to unravel from basic literature, the complex demands on the video editor of a TV channel. With this background knowledge the cognitive retraining and cognitive behaviour therapy interventions could be individualized more effectively. A brief account of the video editor’s role would not be out of place here.

Video Editing

Although video editing may be considered a creative act, it requires working through a well-established, predictable set of steps. The first step is the importing and ingesting phase, followed by rough edits to the footage, dragging clips into the timeline, synchronizing the audio track and then fine-tuning the clips. Once the structure is set at this level, some additional post-production steps are required, namely, adding transitions between clips and various kinds of video filters, which change the visual quality of one or more clips to impact on the tone and texture of a piece. Titles are added and finally the color grading is done. In short, TV video editing calls for thematic conceptualization and sequencing in a timeline as executive function, with clarity of online working memory, pattern recognition and creative abilities, visual and auditory sensitivity, coupled with addressing the emotional element of a broadcast, team work and alert, timely delivery of the end product. This end product must capture the main features of the program, have a flow and continuity and appeal to the viewer expectations to create an overall impact!

Our Healing Approach

We came to the diagnosis that his symptoms were provoked by an underlying antibody syndrome – Autoimmune Limbic Encephalitis (LE). Detailed assessment for a possible malignancy was carried out, to rule out Paraneoplastic Limbic Encephalitis A second course of IV methyl prednisolone (the first having been given during admission in the acute phase), intensive cognitive rehabilitation and stress management was the doctor’s well considered management schedule, along with the other integrative therapies .Other medication included Levetiracetam for seizures, Donepezil for memory, Clobazam (for seizures and anxiety), Piracetam and Gingko Biloba (cognitive enhancers). He was under regular antidiabetic medication with his Diabetologist who also saw him through an unexplained acute skin reaction together with a dermatologist.

Cognitive Retraining (CRT) sessions were focused on improvement of sustained attention and memory enhancement. Tasks followed were the cancelling of digits for attention and verbal games, reading and visual memory games. He was able to recall from a small paragraph initially, to quarter of a page at mid therapy and half a page of details by the end of ten sessions of CRT.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) was given for his neurobehavioural symptoms. Family counseling, worksite review, and introduction of Joseph’s family members as his treatment monitors were other focused methods to enhance patient motivation and to see him progressively attain his premorbid state at home, in the community and at his workplace 

Our Ayurveda Consultant prescribed Shirodhara, the calming effect of which has been elaborated in the ancient texts. We have observed remarkable improvement in some of our patients with neurobehavioural problems who have undergone this procedure and we saw it succeed once again in Joseph.

Within a three month period of therapy, with the overall feeling of well being and improvement in his cognitive ability, that glimpse of hope of recovery sparked off definite positive trend in his attitude, with less agitation and irritation, a more focused goal to help himself and to take maximum advantage of the therapies and counseling offered to him by the TriMed-Neurokrish team. From this point the improvement in his condition was by leaps and bounds and there was no looking back.

Our Focus:

Our Integrative Medical Therapy

  • Shirodhara is a classical and well-established procedure, as described in the ancient Ayurvedic treatises, of slowly and steadily dripping medicated oil or other liquids onto the forehead. Shira – head, is the ‘Seat of the Mind’ and Dhara signifies flow – a constant flow of the medicated, warm liquid – oil, milk,  buttermilk or coconut water onto the forehead of the subject, lying supine on the Ayurvedic massage table in the yogic Shavasana posture of complete relaxation of body and mind.
  • The liquid is gently poured, in a constant stream, ‘the size of the little finger’ from a height of 8-10cms from a special vessel, (protecting the eyes), onto the centre of the  forehead for a minimum duration of 30 minutes and a maximum of 60 minutes. The liquid is allowed to flow down the scalp and is collected from the table, warmed and reused during the procedure. Shirodhara may be repeated 2-3 times with an interval of 7, 14 or 21 days, depending on the severity of the disease/disorder.
  • The constant flow of fluid stimulating the Sthapani Marma (this ‘vital spot’ being one of the 37 vital spots of the head, the whole body consisting of 107 such spots) indirectly stimulates the pituitary gland, at which brain level (Sthapani), the liquid flow occurs. The Ayurvedic texts mention the master gland and other endocrine glands and their function and clearly outline the calming neurobehavioural benefits of the procedure. The centre of the forehead, which was evolution-wise related to the third eye, is also connected atavistically to the pineal gland. This spot is known as Agnya Chakra, one of the vital energy centres in the yogic tradition. Focusing on Agnya Chakra with closed eyes during meditation leads to psychosomatic harmony.
  • As the oil drips on the Agnya Chakra, the authors propose, that the meditation-like effect is a consequence of stillness of mind leading to adaptive response to the basal stress. Shirodhara is popularized today by the modern health spas as a sure way to ‘rejuvenation and stress relief’! However, the ancient texts lay emphasis on its role in neurological and psychological disorders, headache and insomnia, and mention other indications and contraindications.

References

  1. Vaghbatta. Shirodhara Ashtanga Hridaya, Sutra Sasthana, Chapter 22
  2. GS Lavekar, TV Menon,  Bharthi, A Practical Handbook of  Panchakarma Procedures (2009)  Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha, Dept. of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare GoI, New Delhi
  3. Ajanal Manjunath, Chougale Arun Action of Shirodhara– A Hypothetical Review J Res. Med. Plants & Indigen. Med. Sept. 2012 1;  9 : 457–463
  4. Kalpana D. Dhuri, Prashant V. Bodhe,  Ashok  B. Vaidya . Shirodhara: A Psycho-physiological Profile in Healthy Volunteers J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2013 Jan-Mar; 4(1): 40–44.

Our Neuropsychiatry Focus

Autoimmune Limbic Encephalitis is a rare disorder, characterised by the subacute onset of seizures, short-term memory loss, and psychiatric and behavioural symptoms. This type of limbic encephalitis is associated with Voltage-Gated Potassium Channel (VGKC) or N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antibodies.

  • The emphasis in the management of autoimmune LE is on its timely recognition, in order to rule out malignancy and to initiate treatment early. This potentially life-threatening disease responds well to immunomodulatory therapy.
  • The diagnosis of Paraneoplastic Limbic Encephalitis (PLE) is difficult because clinical markers are often absent and the LE symptoms usually precede the diagnosis of cancer or may mimic other complications. The clinical diagnosis of PLE requires :
    • a compatible clinical picture;
    • an interval of <4 years between the development of neurological symptoms and tumour diagnosis;
    • exclusion of other neuro-oncological complications.

References

  1. M.J. Thieben, ; Lennon, V.A.  Boeve B.F.  Aksamit A.J.,Keegan M,  Vernino S. Potentially reversible autoimmune limbic encephalitis with neuronal potassium  antibody Neurology April 2004;62:1177–1182
  2. Guetekin SH, Rosenfeld MR, Voltz R, Eichen J, Posner JB, Dalmau J Paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis: neurological symptoms, immunological findings and tumour association in 50 patients. Brain. 2000 Jul;123 ( Pt 7):1481-94

Looking Ahead

At work a change in the software platform used, resulted in Joseph’s problems being magnified. No longer could he work on the auto-pilot, with skills learnt over two decades suddenly becoming obsolete. Supported by the three legged stool, his family, his employer and our therapeutic team, all working in tandem, he has managed to overcome these many hurdles. Apart from therapy and rehabilitation, he has benefitted too from a second course of intravenous steroids. Titrating his drug prescription, avoiding drugs that have unacceptable side effects and responding to his changing situation have all been necessary.

Two years on, the transformation of Joseph is remarkable. He is seizure free, composed, communicates clearly and well, manages well at work having learnt to use the new software platform, and enjoys a close trusting relationship with his family. He still has some residual memory and cognitive dysfunction and attends our centre for periodic cognitive retraining sessions. This father of two, the sole breadwinner of a young family, has managed to retain his job, thanks to the therapeutic alliance between his family, employer and our treating team. Indeed, his employer’s corporate social responsibility in walking the distance with Joseph deserves special commendation. This editor’s life continues unedited, thanks to the science of modern medicine, the wisdom in our ancient medical systems and the goodness that continues to exist in our society.

Categories
Buddhi Stories Epilepsy & Seizures Featured Stroke & Cardiovascular Diseases

Devi – The Iron Lady

It was the harvest festival of South India, Pongal – the day of Thanksgiving to the Sun God – the beginning of the new Tamil month, Thai, and as the popular saying goes, “Thai brings in its wake, new hope and cheer”. The house had to be decorated with flowers and the pot of rice with all its special ingredients had to be allowed to boil over, symbolic of plenty, peace and prosperity. Families would gather to celebrate the joyous occasion together. The festivities would continue over 4 days – cattle pampered with special food, decked with bells, cowrie shells and flower garlands and rejoicing covered every aspect of agricultural life. Urbanisation had not taken away from marking this day of festivity every year, when man, beast, the sun and rain gods and the earth, all came together to celebrate the yield of man’s toil, in the form of nature’s harvest bounty. It was a celebration of life and all living things in an environment of harmony, peace and goodwill to all.

Biography

January 14th, 2015, 6 am on Pongal day and the 80 year old lady Mrs. Devi was already up, bathed and dressed in the exquisite new Kanchipuram sari gifted to her by her family for the festive occasion. The gift was also to mark a warm home-coming, after three months of grappling with the acute phase and serious sequelae of a cerebrovascular event she had miraculously conquered. The spirit of Pongal which signifies the unity of all living things on the face of the earth and the five elements, seemed to echo the principles of Yoga, acupuncture, Ayurvedic massage and other forms of traditional Medicine of the East, which follow the tenet that the body heals itself. Mrs. Devi had undergone these alternative therapies in the subacute and rehabilitation phase of the stroke.

Was Devi slowly reclaiming her original, premorbid personality, which many could have envied?  She had been active and on her toes from dawn to dusk, warm in her relationship with the members of her family and friends alike, a good wife, a loving mother, a doting grandmother and  a charming and gracious host. As a homemaker, home and hearth were always her priority, but it was the joy of giving of her best that made her unique! The grandchildren swore that only grandma could make such exotic ‘meen kozhumbu’ (fish curry). The daughters’- in – law sharpened their culinary skills, with Devi overseeing the making of the new recipe, or produced the most intricate rangoli designs on the floor in their courtyard, with her active participation, or just tucked the children in bed before going out for a function with their respective husbands, with the assurance that Devi was there to keep a watchful eye on them, even through their deep slumber.

Exploring the Condition

Mrs Devi, a known hypertensive on regular antihypertensive medication for 6 years, (Tab Telma 40 mg. 1-0-0 and Tab. Tazloc 20mg.-0-0-1), had  an episode of seizure followed by difficulty in speaking and  weakness of the right upper and lower limbs in mid October 2014, when she was admitted to a leading hospital in Chennai.

Frisium (Clobazam) and Dicorate (Divalproex Sodium) tablets were added to her drug regimen as anticonvulsant therapy. A diagnosis of left middle cerebral artery (MCA) infarct was made, confirmed by CT scan and routine stroke management initiated. All seemed well till 3rd November, when she developed acute breathlessness and emergency tracheostomy was performed, following which she was on ventilator support for a period of ten days. On inpatient treatment, she recovered, was able to talk normally, walk, and attend to her activities of daily living with partial support.

A second episode of seizure and loss of consciousness occurred, The repeat MR imaging revealed bilateral subarachnoid haemorrhage, with oedema and mass effect. There was a 50-60% block of the right internal carotid artery and a small berry aneurysm of the left middle cerebral artery. After a stormy period in ICU, she slipped into deep coma. The hospital indicated to the family that continued intensive care while required, did not guarantee a good prognosis.

At this point, she was transferred at the family’s initiative to Trimed-Neurokrish care in our partner hospital. At the time of take over, Devi was barely conscious, had the tracheostomy tube, feeding tube and catheter in place, was severely paralysed on the left side, with not even a flicker of muscle contraction and had excessive throat secretions and severe chest congestion.

The Diagnosis

The first stroke was an infarct, due to lack of blood supply to a well – defined vascular territory of the brain, the first indicator of a cerebrovascular deficit.  The second stroke was the result of a bleed from the berry aneurysm into the subarachnoid space. Was there a minor re-bleed resulting in the first respiratory distress event, or was it caused purely by aspiration, and secondary chest congestion and infection? Initially, the tracheostomy tube was blocked requiring constant attention and had to be replaced by a metal tube, and this was electively removed after a few months of stabilization of the patient’s condition by the ENT surgeon.

Saccular Cerebral Aneurysms, also known as Berry Aneurysms, are intracranial aneurysms with a rounded appearance and account for the majority of intracranial aneurysms. They are also the most common cause of non-traumatic Subarachnoid Haemorrhage (SAH). SAH  accounts for 3% of all strokes, and 50% are fatal

Sudlow and Warlow, 19971

Of those who survive, “All in all, only a small minority of all patients with SAH have a truly good outcome.”

Johnston 19982

Aneurysmal Subarachnoid Haemorrhage (aSAH): The prevalence of intracranial aneurysms from various parts of India varies from 0.75 to 10.3%, with higher numbers of cases being diagnosed due to increasing age of the population and improvements in imaging techniques. Surgical clipping of aneurysm is not much resorted to in India

Koshy 20103

Un-ruptured aneurysms are asymptomatic making it difficult to identify the patients with un-ruptured aneurysms and prevent subarachnoid haemorrhage

Shingare 20114

There is familial predisposition to SAH, with 5-20% having a positive family history. Hypertension, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking are the other risk factors. Though a very severe headache of sudden onset is the typical history, as in the case of  Devi, seizure may mark the onset, with loss of consciousness initially and in an obtunded state over several days. The risk of rebleeding gradually decrease between 1-6 months. MRA is a feasible tool for detecting aneurysms.

1 Sudlow CL, Warlow CP. Comparable studies of the incidence of stroke and its pathological types: results from an international collaboration. Stroke 1997; 28: 491–9.

Our Healing Approach

After the TriMed-Neurokrish comprehensive assessment, overseen by our neurologist and rehabilitation physician, supported by our chest and ENT physician, we optimised all Devi’s medication including broad spectrum antibiotics, bronchodilators and nebulisation, and the patient’s condition stabilized. We introduced moderate dose intravenous steroids to kick start brain function. We also started to deliver to her, on the bedside, an integrative therapy program. She was discharged after an ENT opinion was obtained on the tracheostomy status and the cardiologist opinion. She continued therapy at home.

The patient was readmitted 3 weeks later into the ICU with acute symptoms following a probable aspiration. Endotracheal secretion culture and sensitivity was positive for Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeroginosa, and treated with the antibiotic of choice.  Suction of the lung secretions and chest physiotherapy was part of the intensive treatment of this second episode of acute respiratory distress. This was followed by stepping up the alternative therapies and the patient’s recovery has been on a remarkable upward curve.

Our Focus:

Devi had undergone Yoga, Ayurvedic massage, acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology and other forms of traditional Medicine of the East over the subacute and rehabilitation phase of the stroke. All these forms of what is globally termed Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) sets its strong belief in the body healing itself, empowered by the energy centres in the body and the flow of this energy through specific channels. Any block in the energy flow causes ill health. Traditional knowledge-based interventions released these blocks, to pave the way to recovery. The TriMed-Neurokrish technique is to encourage the CAM procedures of the trained team, to complement the astute Allopathic diagnosis and management, cognitive therapies and counseling. It allows patient participation in his/her own healthcare, along with family members, who witness the palpable improvement in the patient’s health condition.

A little detail of the yoga breathing patterns and exercises that benefitted Devi and its rationale in yogic terms, will not be out of place in its elaboration here.

Yoga asanas involve movements (bending, stretching, rotating), that stimulate ‘injured’ parts of the body by increasing the blood supply, followed by phases of total relaxation, Savasana, between movement phases. In the case of Devi, our Naturopathy & Yoga doctor believed that the group of asanas that stretch and strengthen the thoracic cage muscles, to encourage full excursion of the chest wall in efficacious breathing would benefit her most as therapy and eliminate her acute respiratory episodes. Considering her age and health state, the therapist chose to put her on a simple but an intensive asana regimen which he stepped up in a graded manner. Padahasthasana involves a set of asanas with stretching and touching toes standing and in a seated position, with outstretched lower limbs. Thadasana is standing upright ‘like a mountain’, stretching backward and bending forward to touch toes on the same side. Trikonasana: standing and bending diagonally to touch toes on the opposite side; repeating stretches in the seated position – Paschimottanasanas – seated and bending forward to touch toes; also bending diagonally to touch toes on opposite feet, alternately. Rhythmic abdominal breathing accompanies these movements, with the  inhalation phase accompanying the stretch and exhalation phase, the bending.

Breath is the essence of Prana – the ‘life force’. Pranayama, alternative nostril breathing in Padmasana meditative seated posture, seeks to harness this prana. By focusing the mind totally on the rhythmic breathing, the body channels are opened, allowing energy to flow freely and connect with the life force. In modern scientific terms, the role of the autonomic nervous system in this breathing pattern has been recognized, with increase in sympathetic inputs. As a result, concentration and clarity of thought develops. Prana provides the strength, power and vitality required to carry out higher level activity. Attentive awareness of the breath can gently lead the aspirant to the art of meditation.

Chinmudra is hand gesture with opposition of the thumb and index finger bilaterally and the other fingers are outstretched and facing upwards. Chinmudra in yogic meditative posture enhances Ekagrhachittam – one-pointed concentration of the mind during meditation. When the finger touches the thumb a circuit is established, which allows the energy that would normally dissipate into the environment, to travel back into the body. When the fingers and hands are placed on the knees, in the meditative seated posture, the knees are sensitized, creating another pranic circuit that maintains and redirects prana within the body. As the palms face upwards in Chinmudra, the chest and heart area are opened up as well.

Why this thumb and index finger alignment in yoga gesture, towards deep concentration? It makes us look for a link with theories regarding the evolution and attributes of thumb opposition in the early homo sapien, employment of toys which encourage a pincer grip for toddlers in the Montessori system of child education, the Neuroscience concept in modern Medicine of the homunculus, where the cortical motor (and sensory) representation of the thumb is enormous, with the index finger next in line, the maximum use of the index finger for serious Braille reading.

“It is specifically the opposition between the thumb and index finger that has made it possible to execute the extremely refined movements that have produced the whole of human culture — from architecture to writing, from music to painting, and all the technology that enriches our lives.”

Looking Ahead

With the last admission for the aspiration pneumonia, Devi had left behind the roller coaster ride through various catastrophic health events. She was alert and poised to instruct her daughters-in-law on making the rice dish to perfection and all the other delicacies for lunch, when the whole family would feast together. Till the previous year, she had led the women of her household by nonchalantly tossing in hand-measured quantities of ingredients with the flourish of the seasoned cook that she was. This year she had to be content with gesturing the instructions with her hands, with the occasional word thrown in. She knew that the cashew-nut jar was on the topmost shelf, out of reach of the children, the jaggery in the jar could not be adequate and more had to be purchased from the corner store. All these minor details of the kitchen front, her culinary skills her motivation and leadership quality returned and she was to participate in yet another family Pongal festivity.

The family members felt that the level of recovery was well beyond all expectations and recollected their shocked state and hopelessness when they saw their dear one being wheeled into the hospital in an obtunded state for the second time in a month. The TriMed-Neurokrish team gave of their best, with total co-operation from the family. But it was the Iron Lady, the patient herself, with her ekagrhachittam or single –pointed intent, focus and willpower that saw her in this recovered state, with some residual visual deficit, a more subdued, rasping voice due to left laryngeal nerve palsy, mild gait disability, but with a mind to overcome even these residual problems or accept the  discomfort they posed, with cheer, to lead from the front once again, as was her nature.

Categories
Bipolar Disorder Epilepsy & Seizures Featured

The Curious Case of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh is one among many famous personalities in history who have rightly or wrongly been credited with having suffered from epilepsy. It seems fairly clear that Vincent van Gogh did suffer from symptoms of brain and mind; seizures, hallucinations, mood swings and explosive impulsive behavior that have been variously attributed to bipolar disorder, Meniere’s disease and interestingly, personality features linked with epilepsy.

Van Gogh was not just a productive painter (over 2000 works in a relatively short lifetime); he was a very prolific letter writer. Indeed, in one very productive period in Arles (1888-1889) he is believed to have produced 200 paintings and 200 watercolors, a painting every 36 hours; he also managed to write to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, and to fellow impressionists, 200 letters filling 1700 pages, the shortest six pages long.

van Gogh was probably hypergraphic, both in letter and painting, the latter having been described as a manifestation of hypergraphia by Michael Trimble, the eminent London-based Behavioral Neurologist. van Gogh had a history of seizures, probably even experiencing one while painting the portrait “Over the Ravine” revealed in the rough brush strokes and resulting in a torn canvas.

He also probably demonstrated other traits of the Geschwind Syndrome: intense mood swings, with irritability and anger; and a spectrum of sexual behavior (hyposexuality, hypersexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality). The last (among others) was with Paul Gauguin, in an intense argument with whom he experienced hallucinations (a voice that asked him to kill).

Provoked to be aggressive, he then experienced a biblical injunction “And if thine offend thee, pluck it out” and turned the razor, famously, on to his own ear (self portrait with a bandaged ear).

Indeed, his relationship with Gauguin was typically intense. van Gogh was observed by Gauguin to experience difficulty in terminating arguments and discussions (emotional stickiness). Another intense argument is thought to have resulted in van Gogh’s suicide: he threatened his physician with a pistol, was rebuffed, left the office, and shot himself in the chest.

He died two days later. It is noteworthy that van Gogh was the son of a preacher and started his life as one (probable hyper-religiosity). Indeed, it has been proposed by the neurologist and art scholar Prof. Khoshbin that van Gogh had all the five core traits of Geschwind Syndrome ( http://goo.gl/VyjxzK ). His extraordinary creativity and inspired genius makes his case all the more curious, indeed!

Categories
Epilepsy & Seizures Featured

The Whole Picture – Epilepsy Care and Management

A therapeutic alliance and an interdisciplinary approach work well for patients with epilepsy.

In over 85 per cent of cases,
epilepsy can be treated successfully.

Epilepsy was once considered a manifestation of gods, demons, spirits and their disaffection with humankind. Its treatment in ancient times involved a range of rituals and exorcisms. In the 19th century, as medical science evolved, epilepsy came to be regarded as a disease of the brain but continued to be associated closely with the mind and was often treated in asylums by doctors, who were as concerned with mental illness as they were with epilepsy.In the first part of the 20th century, clear associations between the mind and epilepsy began to emerge from patient settings. That behaviours could be a manifestation of underlying epilepsy (epileptic equivalents), precede a seizure (aura or warning), and follow seizures (post-ictal states) all became part of neurological lore. That psychological states (hysteria) could manifest with seizure-like episodes, ‘psychogenic seizures’, or ‘pseudoseizures’ also were described. Anxiety, depression, psychosis, obsessions, hysteria… a wide range of mental states being a prelude to seizures, accompanying silent seizures, or following seizures were described by European neuro-psychiatrists. However, despite this rich medical literature of over two centuries, the relationship between epilepsy and the mind remains much misunderstood as also the treatment of disorders thereof.Fourteen-year-old Miss V, with a childhood history of febrile seizures, suffered from repeated episodes of jerking and being ‘absent’ that tended to cluster around her menstrual periods. She also had falling academic grades, mood swings, anxiety, disturbed digestion and poor sleep. A good student whose childhood epilepsy had been well controlled, she was bemused by the sudden outbreak of symptoms around menarche that had over a year substantially reduced her quality of life.Consultations with an array of specialists and close observation by her intelligent and attentive parents led to the understanding that the problem was not easily responsive to conventional medication; was closely linked to stress, both academic and familial; clustered around her menstrual periods; was unpredictable and at times subtle (a jerk or two while on the dining table that could otherwise pass off as a teenage mannerism); could affect her on several days in a month. Indeed, her father, a diligent record keeper, could identify as many as 50 to 60 events in a given month occurring in five to six clusters.A comprehensive care approach for such a patient would comprise:A detailed interdisciplinary history: general medical, menstrual, neurological, psychiatric, developmental, social, familial and nutritionalA detailed treatment history: drugs, doses, side-effects, impact of treatment. Investigations to exclude co-morbidities and complications.Establishment of a therapeutic alliance with the family: A firm commitment to work together with transparency, mutual respect and common goals.An interdisciplinary therapeutic programme: nutritional and medical, psychological counselling, yoga therapy, naturopathic and Ayurveda therapies for digestion, sleep and peri-menstrual symptoms.A carefully graded approach to drug treatment of epilepsy with commitment to identify the ideal drug combination and the therapeutic window thereof.After a similar approach for Miss V, one year later it was found:Episodes diminished from 50 to two to three a month.Attacks were brief and had limited impact (a couple of hours at best).Peri-menstrual periods were bearable.Mood swings and anxiety had remitted; sleep and appetite improved greatly; stress levels fallen.Is compliant with medication and regular; tolerated her drug doses well.A therapeutic alliance and interdisciplinary approach (a recommended global best practice model of epilepsy care*) appear to have worked. Miss V is firmly on the road to recovery.FAQsWhat is epilepsy? A short circuit in the brain’s electrochemical activity is a seizure. A tendency to have unprovoked seizures is epilepsy.What causes epilepsy? About 10 per cent of all patients have clear genetic causes. In others, brain trauma (in pregnancy or later life), infections (cysticercosis and tuberculosis), inflammations, tumours; brain scarring due to poor blood supply (ischemia) and degeneration contribute.Can epilepsy be treated? In over 85 per cent of cases, epilepsy can be treated successfully (either complete absence of seizures or a substantial reduction). A range of drugs, surgical treatments and brain stimulation procedures are available.Can a person with epilepsy lead a normal life? Certainly! People with epilepsy can study, hold responsible jobs, get married, have children, play sport and engage in social, cultural activities. Limitations if any are related to driving a motorised vehicle (law varies across countries), taking part in adventure sports, swimming without supervision etc.Can epilepsy be prevented? Epilepsy is not contagious. Prevention starts at conception with good maternal health and antenatal care. Good care of the newborn, appropriate nutrition, prevention of infections, head injuries especially road traffic accidents, early diagnosis and treatment of seizures are the cornerstones of prevention.What to do when a person has a seizure? Put them on their side comfortably (the recovery position), remove all dangerous objects (those that are sharp, emit heat etc.), provide a soft head rest; hold them gently until the event is over (seconds to minutes). Do not try and insert your hands into their mouth; do not hold them forcefully or try to interrupt the seizure. Giving them keys or metal to hold has no medical impact. If a seizure is prolonged, call an ambulance immediately.