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Drawings may aid epilepsy diagnosis

26 March, 2002

Following successful trials involving patients with headaches, the use of drawings by people with epilepsy is being investigated as a way of diagnosing the condition.

The journal Pediatrics reports on research at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. The study requested 226 children with headaches to make pencil drawings that showed the location of their pain, what their pain feels like, and any other changes or symptoms that accompany the headache.

One group of paediatric neurologists studied the pictures and rated each drawing as being indicative of either migraine or non-migraine, while another group of paediatric neurologists determined the type of headache using the normal diagnostic procedures.

Drawings that contained an artistic feature consistent with migraine (e.g., pounding pain, nausea/vomiting or a desire to lie down) predicted the clinical diagnosis of migraine in over 85 per cent of cases.

"The study transpired because I became so struck by the details and fascinating pictures that my headache patients were drawing," lead investigator Dr Carl Stafstrom told Reuters Health. The pictures may offer insight into children's headaches and may provide information the children may not be able to express verbally because they are too young or because they may be more adept at drawing.

The children's age did not affect their ability to accurately render their headache type. In fact, those below the age of 8 years were somewhat better than those who were older. The youngest patient, a 4-year-old boy, drew rocks pounding his forehead.

Dr Stafstrom is to use this technique to analyse patients with epilepsy. He will ask these people to depict "how they feel about themselves, their self-image, vulnerability, or if they have any specific sensations or feelings before their loss of consciousness."