Researchers report the curious medical case of a six-year-old girl from Bolivia who had uncontrollable and inappropriate fits of laugher. “She was considered spoiled, crazy, even devil-possessed,” José Liders Burgos Zuleta of the Advanced Medical Image Centre in La Paz, Bolivia, says in a news release. Doctors diagnosed her with “misbehavior.”
After imaging her brain using CT, PET, and MRI scans, Liders Burgos and colleagues were able to diagnose the cause of the girl’s gelastic (or laughing) seizures: They discovered a hamartoma -- a small, benign, tumor-like growth -- pressing on the temporal lobe of her brain.
Gelastic seizure was first described in 1877, and it comes from the Greek word “gelos,” for laughs. Normal laughter is an emotional reflex and its accompanying motor action involves the hypothalamus, the temporal cortex, and several regions of the brain stem. Gelastic nervous breakdowns occur mostly in the temporal lobe, and the rare condition is more frequently diagnosed in children.
After surgery to remove the tumor, the child's now healthy and developing normally without further seizures. The doctors hope her case will help parents and neurologists better diagnose children with apparent behavioral issues in Latin America.
The work was published in ecancermedicalscience this week.
Image: Burgos Zuleta et al., ecancermedicalscience 2014