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June 16, 1975

Violence and Epilepsy

JAMA. 1975;232(11):1165-1167. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03250110045025

THROUGHOUT history, epilepsy has been the victim of bad press. In ancient Greece, it was sometimes called the Herculean disease because Hercules was thought to have murdered his family in a fit of uncontrollable rage. Two thousand years later, Michael Crichton wrote in The Terminal Man, "Epileptics are predisposed to violent, aggressive behavior during their attacks." In later editions of his novel, Crichton softened his stance with a postscript, but many physicians and laymen still retain a belief that epileptics are dangerous, potentially violent people. In fact, the threads linking violence and epilepsy are tenuous and tangled.

Epilepsy is one of the most common of neurological complaints. Epidemiological studies have placed prevalence at 0.5%, and there is good reason to suspect that this is an underestimation. In a recent publication of the National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke, the figure 2% is cited. Since epilepsy appears early, lasts long,