In the last several weeks I have been in and out of a frustrating cycle with my seizures. Just when it seemed that things had calmed down, and I was no longer struggling with my body, another cycle would start. Ever the detective when it comes to hunting down the causes of seizures, I looked hard at what was happening in my day-to-day life.
Issues have come up, as they do in every business and every family, issues that require attention, concentration and thought. While I believe my thought process is actually more refined than it was when I was working in the corporate world, I have noticed that often these periods of intense problem-solving result in seizure cycles that take time to break. As a result, I have to work at calming my body. Like the merry-go-round on a playground, the spinning has to wind down. It doesn’t just stop. I can’t jump off.
I always look for the source of the problem with the ever present hope that I can eliminate it from my life. And, in this situation, Adrenaline was the one issue that came up over and over.
Adrenaline is rarely listed as a seizure trigger. When looking at the usual lists, you are more likely to see “Mood” or “Stress” listed. But, is it really stress or is it Adrenaline brought on by a stressful situation? This distinction is never made on the lists and articles I see, and I believe this is a huge problem the medical community is overlooking.
When you start to read about Adrenaline, you will see why this may be a hidden issue. Meriam Webster defines Adrenaline as epinephrine.
Adrenaline is used in both technical and nontechnical contexts. It is commonly used to describe the physiological symptoms (such as increased heart rate and respiration) that occur not only as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress—as when someone is in a dangerous, frightening, or highly competitive situation—but as also with feelings of heightened energy, excitement, strength, and alertness associated with those symptoms.
In figurative use, it suggests a drug that provides something with a jolt of useful energy and stimulation.
Below is a description from the hormone.org site of what Adrenaline/Epinephrine does to the body.
“Adrenaline is produced in the medulla in the adrenal glands as well as some of the central nervous system’s neurons. Within a couple of minutes during a stressful situation, adrenaline is quickly released into the blood, sending impulses to organs to create a specific response. Adrenaline triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response. This reaction causes air passages to dilate to provide the muscles with the oxygen they need to either fight danger or flee. Adrenaline also triggers the blood vessels to contract to re-direct blood toward major muscle groups, including the heart and lungs. The body’s ability to feel pain also decreases as a result of adrenaline, which is why you can continue running from or fighting danger even when injured. Adrenaline causes a noticeable increase in strength and performance, as well as heightened awareness, in stressful times. After the stress has subsided, adrenaline’s effect can last for up to an hour.”
OK, so stay with me here. Adrenaline is a hormone and a drug that is released in the body during stressful situations. It impacts the muscles, the heart and blood vessels, lungs and other major organs, and brain. Picture that and think if it would trigger a seizure.
Here’s another example from Epilepsy Talk:
“Adrenaline is released and the liver begins to emit stored blood sugar. Insulin is then released, and blood sugar drops below normal—a common seizure trigger.”
At this point in my reading, I am sure Adrenaline is a problem for me, but I can’t quite figure out why it’s not right up there on the list with sleep deprivation and illegal drug use. So I dig further and find that the last publication exploring Adrenaline and seizures was a paper by Jerome Fabricant in 1954. In “The Role of Adrenaline in Epilepsy“, Fabricant clearly believed Adrenaline played a major role in seizures. He was frustrated back then with the lack of work being done concerning this topic.
“This paper suggests that adrenaline may well have a central role in generating and determining the characteristics of epileptic seizures. Since little work, however, has been done with the view of establishing the precise role of adrenaline in epilepsy, the discussion to follow must necessarily and in large part be based upon adrenaline research outside the field of epilepsy.”
Recap time: Adrenaline is a drug as well as a hormone. It is strong enough to impact all the major organs of the body along with the circulatory system and the brain. It is released with an individual in a stressful situation. The person in question may not even be aware that it is flooding through his or her system. There is speculation that Adrenaline plays a “major role” in seizures, but with the exception of a study in Russian, all I came up with were questions on the Epilepsy Forum.
Then I ran across this April 10, 2012, gem from Johns Hopkins, picked up by multiple sources:
“Based on their clinical experience and observations, a team of Johns Hopkins physicians and psychologists say that more than one-third of the patients admitted to The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s inpatient epilepsy monitoring unit for treatment of intractable seizures have been discovered to have stress-triggered symptoms rather than a true seizure disorder. These patients — returning war veterans, mothers in child-custody battles and over-extended professionals alike — have what doctors are calling psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES).”
I almost have no words to express the level of anger I felt at reading that article. There are so many problems with the definition of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures that it is too much to go into here, but I truly believe that one day the medical community will understand that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it most certainly is a duck. And given that, the seizures these individuals were experiencing could be linked to an Adrenaline problem. But the doctors in question couldn’t get a recording on them, so they dismissed them as “poor coping skills”. And honestly, things like this—and I have been through similar ones myself—make many of us feel that the professionals who should be giving us the most help and hope are, in fact, causing the worse pain and difficulty in our lives
Since Adrenaline comes from within our bodies and is a hormone there is a reasonable assumption that it could malfunction, just like other hormones such as thyroid and estrogen. If you have ever had professional burnout, sleep problems, weight issues or premenopausal anger attacks, you may have experienced a hormone malfunction. So what about Adrenaline and how might it impact seizures?
(Disclaimer: Here is where I stress I am not a doctor and just relaying my own experience.) I think that for whatever reason, my issues with Adrenaline are more pronounced than they were before the seizures broke free. I can feel it flood my body. I can taste it in my mouth during situations where, mentally, I feel completely controllable. But once the Adrenaline hits my body, I feel pulled underwater, fighting to save myself from the effects that include frighteningly painful headaches, chest pain, muscle pain, and electrical-type seizures. None of the quiet hallucinations and altered perceptions, but BAM, pain and the feeling that I have been hit with a cattle prod.
In finally recognizing I am not “stressed” and practicing “poor coping skills”, but fighting an actual drug or drug overdose produced by my own body, helps me deal with the aftermath. Knowledge is everything to me and knowing the “what” is sometimes more useful than anything else I have available at the time. That said, I still have to let the merry-go-round wind down. But each piece of information I gather helps me take back my self-respect and my self-esteem that I felt the original diagnosis took from me—not because of the diagnosis, but because of the way the medical community and others reacted to the age old stigma.
Knowledge is everything my friend, start reading.