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Chief Justice’s Seizure Raises Questions About Causes

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who was released from the hospital on Tuesday, is among 25 million Americans who have suffered from seizures. A neurologist describes the triggers and treatments of such conditions.

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    The chief justice is one of 25 million Americans who have had, or will have, a seizure at some point in their lives. Three million of those have epilepsy, which means they have suffered more than one seizure.

    Here to tell us more is Dr. Susan Spencer, professor of neurology at the Yale University School of Medicine.

    Welcome, Dr. Spencer.

    DR. SUSAN SPENCER, Professor of Neurology: Thank you.


    The term we have heard today is benign idiopathic seizure. Define that for us in English.


    Well, a seizure is an episode of brain cells discharging excessively and an abnormal number of them discharging in unison. And there are many kinds of seizures, and they have a multitude of causes, so virtually anything that affects the brain can cause seizures with the right situation.

    Sometimes, however, we are unable to identify a discrete cause, like a tumor or a stroke or an injury or the way the brain developed or other causes, and then we call it idiopathic, meaning we don't have a defined cause. Some of the syndromes that cause seizures recurrently, which are defined as epilepsy, are not clearly defined as cause and also not associated with any other disturbances of the brain or an individual's function. Some of the things…