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Neuroscience For Kids

Did Frédéric Chopin Have Epilepsy?
February 2, 2011

Composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (born, 1810; died 1849) has written some of the most beautiful music ever created. New research suggests that Chopin's musical genius may have been influenced by epilepsy.

Chopin was born in Poland, but moved to Paris where he composed and taught piano. He is best known for his piano sonatas and waltzes. Chopin suffered from many different illnesses and may have also had temporal lobe epilepsy. Although he did not have any seizures that incapacitated him, Chopin did report visual hallucinations that may have been a symptom of epilepsy.

Drs. Manuel Vázquez Caruncho and Franciso Brañas Fernández (Complexo Hospitalario Xeral-Calde, Lugo, Spain) examined letters written by Chopin and by people who knew the composer. The letters mentioned that Chopin had visual hallucinations that lasted several seconds to a few minutes. Chopin's hallucinations were also more common in the evening and when he had a fever. However, he did not appear to have migraines and he never experienced any paralysis.

These symptoms suggest to Drs. Caruncho and Fernández that Chopin had temporal lobe epilepsy. It is always difficult to look back in time to diagnose a medical condition. Back in the 1800s, there was no electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure the electrical activity of the brain or brain imaging devices to look inside the living brain. Therefore, the diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy for Chopin is still speculation.

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