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Media perpetuate myths about epilepsy

22 May 2000

According to new research by Johns Hopkins University the media is continuing to portray epilepsy in an alarmist and inaccurate manner.

The research which dealt with 210 stories from 73 news sources has been published in the journal Neurology. It was found that an amazing 31 per cent of the stories contained inaccuracies, including scientific inaccuracies, exaggerated claims about treatments and the risk of dying from a seizure. 6 per cent of the articles even used references to demonic imagery.

Dr Gregory Krauss, Director of Adult Epilepsy at Johns Hopkins said articles often used overly dramatic language to describe seizures or portray seizures as life threatening.

Dr Krauss also discussed the problems of a lack of public figures being willing to discuss their epilepsy saying "if someone has seizures, they often deny it in the press". He cited the case of a US baseball player who suffered a tonic-clonic seizure. Even though his trainer attempted to force his mouth open with a pair of scissors, which resulted in the player losing part of his tooth, he was described as a "hero" in the press at the time. The press quoted other players as saying they though the player was dying and that it reminded them of the film The Exorcist .

Dr Krauss said that though "seizures are dramatic events . . . but they should be put in a medical context, where most of them are not dangerous".