Epilepsy is a disorder with a long history. Epilepsy is referred to in
the laws of Babylon in 2080 BC, (Rogan, 1992). The name epilepsy
originally came from the Greek word ‘epilambanein’ which means to seize
or to attack passively, (Griffin & Wyles, 1991). One of the first
people to write about epilepsy was Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC) who wrote
a book called ‘The Sacred Disease’. In his book, Hippocrates argued
against the prevailing belief of the time that the aetiology of epilepsy
was as a result of supernatural forces. This belief was espoused
because epileptic attacks were thought to be brought about by changes in
the environment such as the weather etc. The environment was thought to
be the product of God, epilepsy was therefore thought to be a product of
God and therefore ‘The Sacred Disease’. Hippocrates argued that the
belief was the result of ignorance or fraud. Hippocrates believed that
epilepsy was a disorder of the brain that could be explained in terms of
humorous medicine and hypothesised that epilepsy was a result of an
imbalance of phlegm in the brain that may be hereditary, (Temkin 1971).
Many years later, a story in the New
Testament of the Bible led people to believe that epilepsy was caused by
demon possession. In the story, Christ drove out an evil spirit from a
young boy who has since being a young child, been thrown to the ground where
he would foam at the mouth and convulse. Although Christ did not mention
epilepsy by name, the story is thought to relate to epilepsy because of the
close match of the boy’s symptoms with epilepsy. Over the centuries, people
with epilepsy were ostracised from society because of the belief that
epilepsy was the result of demon possession, (Meinardi 1989).
In the relatively recent past, the
aetiology of epilepsy being the result of demon worship was replaced by the
belief that epilepsy was due to excessive masturbation and sexual activity.
Although a false belief, a drug was prescribed for epileptics to cure their
supposed promiscuous sexual activity. The drug that was prescribed was
Bromide. By a quirk of fate, Bromide happened to be the first effective
anti-convulsant for epilepsy, (OHE 1971).
argued that epilepsy was a disorder of the brain, it was not until many
centuries later that his hypothesis was confirmed although not in terms
of humorous medicine. In 1860, the National Hospital for the Paralysed
and Epileptic was opened in London. One of the Doctors who came to work
at the hospital produced one of the first accurate descriptions of
epilepsy, (Scott 1969).
“Epilepsy is the name for occasional, sudden, excessive, rapid and local
discharges of grey matter.” (Hughlings Jackson 1873)
Hughlings Jackson’s description of epilepsy was later supported by the
work of Hans Berger who in 1929 published a paper on the human
Electroencephalograph. Electroencephalography measures the electrical
activity of the brain that can be described in Jackson’s terms as being
“local discharges of grey matter”.