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Could Mitchell's seizure be fake?

By KSL.com | Posted - Nov. 30, 2010 at 6:07 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Many are asking whether the seizure Brian David Mitchell suffered in court Tuesday is a serious medical situation or his attempt to stall the trial.

Can someone fake a seizure? It is possible, Dr. Constantino, a neurologist who is a specialist in this field of medicine, said, to fool someone not medically trained; however, seizures are more common than we realize, have many causes and take many forms.

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Dr. Tawnya Constantino, a neurologist, explained what can happen when someone experiences a seizure. Many people have convulsions, pass out, stiffen or shake, she said, but episodes can look or sound different.

Brian David Mitchell's head dropped and he began to moan and cry out.

"As the muscles tighten down, air is forced out past the voice box, and people can have a very loud vocalization or a moaning cry that is the onset or the first sign that they're going into the seizure," Constantino said.

When a seizure occurs, the brain experiences an electrical storm. It may start in one small area and then will increase like ripples.

The causes can be numerous: a brain injury, medication, heat stroke, going through alcohol withdrawals, or genetics.

Rebecca Woodridge, Mitchell's stepdaughter, says he has suffered seizures every few months while in jail but has refused medication. That can cause an increase in frequency.

"They're very at risk for having more convulsions and, over time, that can put them at risk for damage to their brain. It can also increase their risk of dying from a seizure," Constantino said.

Many people wonder if Mitchell could fake a seizure. He could fake a mild one for attention, but it could also be triggered by a psychological episode.

Constantino says it's very difficult for an untrained observer to distinguish an actual seizure from involuntary seizure-like episodes, or even simple acting.

"Most of the time, people who are having psychogenic attacks, really do have some deep emotional trauma that they're dealing with, maybe they haven't dealt with it, and that's why it's coming out as a physical manifestation," Constantino said.

Seizures can start at any age. Dr. Constantino said people who have a history of depression are at significantly increased risk of developing epileptic seizures.

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Story compiled with contributions from Carole Mikita and Marc Giauque

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