Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brain on Fire

by Susannah Cahalan
January 2013

I love reading books about brains and the strange ways that our brains can make us behave.

I saw Susannah Cahalan on the Today Show talking about the strange disease that make her seem that she was insane.   It's a remarkable story because just as her illness seemed to come out of nowhere, so did the cure.

If it hadn't been for Dr. Souhel Najjar (whom Cahalan nicknames "Dr. House," she would never have received the correct diagnosis and wouldn't know that she was suffering from a rare autoimmune disorder that caused the body to attack the brain.

Other doctors had been telling her and her family that she might be suffering from schizophrenia. Another doctor insisted that she was simply exhibiting symptoms of alcoholism and lack of sleep.  

Luckily, Susannah Cahalan has parents that would not give up. They and Susannah's boyfriend kept the faith and persisted in getting the right answers.

It's a very interesting story and a little scary to think that there are probably people past and present who have been misdiagnosed and have been labeled insane or schizophrenic or posessed when some medication and therapy could have cured them.

By the way, the disease that Susannah had is called anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis.
It is usually caused by ovarian teratomas, although Susannah did not have a tumor. Teratomas are made up of tissue that is similar to brain tissue (or other types of tissue). The antibodies that attack the tumor go on to attack the brain.
I saw an episode of The Monster Inside Me (one of my favorite Animal Planet shows) that featured a woman who had a teratoma. She, too, was exhibiting scary, insane behavior. On that show they explained that because teratoma tumors are made up of other kinds of body tissue, the tumors can have hair or teeth.


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