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History of Neurology: Neurology was there |

Seizures in the Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD
Arch Neurol. 1999;56(6):740-743. doi:10.1001/archneur.56.6.740.
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Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most celebrated of American storytellers, lived through and wrote descriptions of episodic unconsciousness, confusion, and paranoia. These symptoms have been attributed to alcohol or drug abuse but also could represent complex partial seizures, prolonged postictal states, or postictal psychosis. Complex partial seizures were not well described in Poe's time, which could explain a misdiagnosis. Alternatively, he may have suffered from complex partial epilepsy that was complicated or caused by substance abuse. Even today, persons who have epilepsy are mistaken for substance abusers and occasionally are arrested during postictal confusional states. Poe was able to use creative genius and experiences from illness to create memorable tales and poignant poems.

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Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe by Oscar Halling (approximately 1868) reproduced from a copy photograph, courtesy of the University of Virginia library. (In: Deas MJ. The Portraits and Daguerrotypes of Edgar Allan Poe.Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia; 1988.)

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