Do You Have Subtle Epilepsy Symptoms That Are Unrecognized?

By:  Lance Fogan, M.D.

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Lance Fogan, M.D. is Clinical Professor of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. His hard-hitting emotional family medical drama, “DINGS, is told from a mother’s point of view. “DINGS” is his first novel. Aside from acclamation on internet bookstore sites, U.S. Report of Books, and the Hollywood Book Review, DINGS has been advertised in recent New York Times Book Reviews, the Los Angeles Times Calendar section and Publishers Weekly. DINGS teaches epilepsy and is now available in eBook, audiobook, soft and hard cover editions. 

Stacie Kalinoski is an Emmy-award-winning reporter. She also is an epilepsy nurse practitioner. In the April/May 2018 issue of the patient-geared journal Brain and Life, page 56, she writes of her own epilepsy. Kalinoski pursues brain surgery and she documents this journey. 

Kalinoski experienced her first convulsion in college. An avid runner, while running she noted regular episodes of déjà vu, that weird feeling like she is in some environment or is seeing something for the very first time, but it felt like that the experience had happened to her before. Most of us have experienced such a feeling once or twice in our lives but frequent recurrent episodes are abnormal. They suggest epileptic auras, a problem in our brain’s temporal lobe. Another brain phenomenon that is similar, but the opposite, is jamais vu. Here, what’s familiar to us no longer feels or seems, familiar. For example, one’s bedroom, one’s car, or familiar people—all feel new during the seconds or minutes of the episode.

Kalinoski’s hidden epilepsy flowered into multiple blank outs after a strenuous marathon run. She had had little sleep. Then she lost awareness and cut herself preparing vegetables. A neurologist diagnosed epilepsy. She started antiseizure medications. Too little sleep and strenuous running accompanied more jamais vu episodes. She became disorientated after a run. She found herself lost despite being very near her house. She required help getting home only two blocks away. Neurological testing showed an abnormal brain focus originating epileptic seizures. A temporal lobectomy followed. This decreased the number of her aura-seizures. These subsequently became episodes of strange tastes lasting a few seconds. Many people also experience auras as smells that aren’t really there—olfactory hallucinations. 

In my novel, DINGS, I created a character who has olfactory hallucinations. The neurologist in the novel queried if his young patient had ever imagined smelling something that wasn’t actually there. The neurologist then offered “burning rubber” smells, a common symptom of complex partial seizure auras. The novel’s character agrees that he does perceive smells like that. A diagnosis of epileptic blank-out seizures is made, heretofore unrecognized. The mother is devastated upon learning her son has epilepsy. She conjures up public prejudices. She learns that one percent of the population has epilepsy, over three million Americans, but the epilepsy in half of them, encouragingly, is well controlled. They are free of seizures on treatment. Chief Justice Roberts of the United States Supreme Court, despite his epilepsy, has achieved a leading position in our society.

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