Randy Dotinga writes: Teen sensation Hannah Montana makes a Florida girl shake all over. The problem: She can't make it stop.
Certain sounds -- barking dogs, the clash of cymbals and a song by the alter ego of celebrity offspring Miley Cyrus -- all trigger seizures in the girl, making her body shake and jerk forward.
The 12-year-old has a mysterious form of epilepsy that's set off when sufferers hear, see or feel a trigger. Warm water, Beethoven music and even a specific kind of font can all spawn seizures.
You may have heard about this kind of thing before: In 1997, hundreds of Japanese kids suffered seizures triggered by the flashing lights of a Pokemon cartoon. In 1991, a doctor reported that an American woman suffered attacks when she heard the voice of "Entertainment Tonight" host Mary Hart.
In the Florida girl's case, low baritone-type sounds like dog barks caused as many as 25-30 seizures a day, says Dr. Paul R. Carney, a pediatric neurologist and professor at the University of Florida. The girl likes music, he says, but found that some songs could trigger a seizure, including one by Hannah Montana. (He doesn't recall the title.)
At first, doctors figured she needed a shrink. But that didn't help, and she ended up seeing Carney, who diagnosed a condition called "reflex epilepsy" about two years ago.
People with the condition seem to suffer seizures when the circuitry of the brain processes a trigger (like a sound) and amplifies it, says Dr. James Geyer, a neurologist and epilepsy specialist in Tuscaloosa, Ala. "It's like abnormal feedback off a microphone," he says, and may be related to a glitch in the body's "startle" response.
"I actually had a patient a number of years ago with reading-related epilepsy," Geyer says. "If he read something in a book with a certain type of font, he'd have a seizure." (Geyer doesn't remember the kind of font it was -- we’re just hoping it’s not the one this is written in.)
Doctors treat reflex epilepsy with anti-seizures medication and tell patients to avoid their triggers. Geyer says it's the equivalent of the old joke: "It hurts when I do this," a patient tells his doctor. "Then don't do that," the doctor says.
There's good news in Florida: the 12-year-old girl is on medication and now only has about one seizure a week. "Her prognosis is actually good," Carney says. "In a lot of people, these seizures go away over time."
The prognosis for Hannah Montana? Not so optimistic. The girl seems to have outgrown the singer and doesn't listen to her anymore. If she's lucky, she'll outgrow her seizures too.
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