Hip hop-induced epilepsy


The Canadian Globe and Mail reports on the remarkable case of Stacey Gayle, a 25-year-old woman from Edmonton who has just had neurosurgery to treat intractable epilepsy.

Gayle (right) was suffering from musicogenic epilepsy, a rare form of the condition in which seizures are triggered by music. In some patients with this type of epilepsy, listening to any type of music provokes a seizure. In others, seizures are only triggered by certain types of music.

The stimuli which induce seizures in musicogenic epileptics can be even more specific. In one case, the attacks occurred only when he played the piano, while  another patient would have a seizure only when he heard "a brass wind instrument play a bass tone" (Daly & Barry, 1957).

Gayle suspected that her attacks were being triggered by a song called Temperature, by Sean Paul, as she remembers that this artist's music had been playing on at least two occasions that she had suffered from seizures. The doctors were initially sceptical about her claims, until they themselves induced seizures by playing that particular song.


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Too bad it would likely have been unethical to play the song multiple times with her and see if there was a specific part of it that was creating the matter. That a single specific song could induce epilepsy is really amazing. If you've seen Serenity, there is a part where a hidden message is used to make one character (who has had her brain modified by the villains) go berserk and attack people after she is exposed to it. That seemed highly implausible at the time, but if triggers can be this specific for epilepsy maybe not. Now if only we knew how to implant this sort of trigger. Manchurian Candidate here we come.

By Joshua Zelinsky (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

Having taught a number of epileptic piano students, I've learned that attacks can be triggered by a diverse amount of stimuli. Usually, experienced epileptic adults have a pretty good idea of their triggers.

Re comment #1, "likely have been unethical to play the song multiple times with her":
Actually, she bravely volunteered for such a study and maps were made of the affected area; a surgical implant was used to stop the seizures. (She had no previous history, btw.)

What's interesting is the resistance she was met with by the neurologists she consulted, even though it is well documented that seizures are triggered by certain frequencies (as interpreted by different input-receiving brain centers, for example as seen in cases where strobelight patterns have triggered mass attacks).

You can bet the Bush Regime's torture industry has plenty of data on such triggering frequencies. Is anyone ready for an admin change yet?!

A more famous (and bizarre) case of audiogenic epilepsy: the woman who had seizures when she heard the froggy/scratchy/perky voice of the host of a TV tabloid entertainment program.

The original clinical note doesn't seem to be online, but I remember hearing that the patient would be watching TV on the couch and then find herself lying on the floor about 30 minutes later with no memory of the intervening time.

It was a pretty horrible voice.

Ramani V. Audiogenic epilepsy induced by a specific television performer. N Engl J Med. 1991 Jul 11;325(2):134-5