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Childhood Abuse and Epilepsy

It looks like a seizure…it acts like a seizure…but is it epilepsy?

As recently as the 1980s, many doctors and scientists thought that by the time babies were born, the structure of their brains was already genetically determined. However, new research shows evidence of altered brain functioning as a result of early abuse and neglect. These changes are associated with adult anxiety, depression and personality disorders.

All types of abuse -- sexual, physical, and emotional (including verbal abuse and witnessing domestic violence) -- raise the risk of depression, anxiety and epilepsy-like symptoms.

Research featured in Harvard Mental Health Letter and published in The American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the damage that hostile words, and or yelling can have on a child. They found "words are weapons that can cause lasting wounds, especially when wielded by parents against children. The damage is sometimes more serious and lasting than injuries that result from beatings", say Harvard researchers reporting on a survey of young adults."

Basically, abuse releases a cascade of stress hormones which produces a lasting effect on brain signals. Experiments at McLean Hospital, for example, show that patients with a history of abuse are twice as likely to show abnormal electrical activity as non abused people. And this abnormal electrical brain activity, in turn, resembles a seizure state, but doesn’t actually produce epilepsy.

Hippocampal Sclerosis

This is a very common (but often unknown) feature of temporal lobe epilepsy. Changes in the hippocampus -- the part of the brain that deals with stress, learning and memory – can be caused by hormones flooding the brain during and after a stressful episode. But the BIG question is whether hippocampal sclerosis is the consequence of repeated seizures, or whether it plays a role in the development of the epileptic focus?

NESD -- Non Epileptic Seizure Disorder

A non-epileptic seizure is a short burst of activity that changes how you move, think, or feel. It looks like an epileptic seizure but there are no measurable electrical changes in the brain. Not surprisingly, many people have a history of sexual or physical abuse. 75% to 85% are women between the ages of 15 to 35. It’s a serious condition that shouldn’t be ignored. With early diagnosis and treatment, future problems can be averted.

Psychogenic Non Epileptic Seizures

These seizures are caused by psychological trauma or conflict that has a lasting effect on your state of mind. The Epilepsy Foundation explains that sexual or physical abuse is the leading cause of psychogenic seizures, where the abuse occurred during childhood.

A psychogenic seizure can be confused with a grand-mal seizure -- with convulsions, falling and shaking. Less often, a psychogenic seizure takes on the form of a complex partial seizure, with a temporary loss of attention. Because of the reasons for these psychogenic seizures, mental health counseling is encouraged. The prognosis is good, with 60 to 70 percent of patients alleviated of seizure symptoms.

“Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom.” -- Erik Erikson


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