Socrates: It has been hypothesized by scholars that Socrates had a mild case of temporal lobe epilepsy without secondary generalization, due to some of his enigmatic remarks and behaviors. Scholars investigated the possibility of underlying epilepsy in Socrates by analyzing pathographic evidence in ancient literature from the viewpoint of the current understanding of seizure semiology.
Joan of Arc: Joan of Arc may have had a type of epilepsy that affects the part of the brain responsible for hearing, or idiopathic partial epilepsy with auditory features. (“Idiopathic” means that the epilepsy likely has a genetic cause, and “partial” means that the epilepsy affects only one area of the brain). Several aspects of Joan’s symptoms, which have been detailed in historical accounts, help support this diagnosis.
Napoleon Bonaparte: The evidence shows that Napoleon Bonaparte had both psychogenic and epileptic attacks. The psychogenic attacks were likely related to the tremendous stress in his life, and the epileptic seizures were the result of chronic uremia from a severe urethral stricture caused by gonorrhea that was transmitted from his wife, Empress Josephine.
Theodore Roosevelt: Throughout his life, Roosevelt suffered from epilepsy and was prone to epileptic seizures, but that did not hold him from his convictions. Upon the end of the Spanish-American war, he was elected governor of New York in 1898. Named as Vice President under President McKinley’s re-election in 1901, he assumed the presidency at age 42 after McKinley was assassinated.
James Madison: In 1775, James Madison attended a militia drill and suddenly collapsed without warning. Madison’s collapse at age 24 has been referred to as an “absence seizure” because the victim appears to momentarily be elsewhere. These seizures, a form of epilepsy also known as “petit mal” (from the French word for “little illness”) usually are brief, often less than 15 seconds and barely noticeable, in contrast to other seizure disorders.
Harriet Tubman: When Harriet Tubman was a teenager, she acquired a traumatic brain injury when a slave owner struck her in the head. This resulted in her developing epileptic seizures and hypersomnia. She did not let her disability keep her or those around her enslaved. Tubman is a prominent figure and was not afraid to be a leader as an African American, a woman and a person with a disability.
Charles Dickens: Dickens is thought to have suffered from epilepsy as a child and possibly throughout his life. Several of his characters – including Monks in “Oliver Twist”, Guster in “Bleak House” and Bradley Headstone in “Our Mutual Friend” – experience “fits” resembling epileptic seizures. Modern doctors have observed that Dickens described “the falling sickness”, as it was then known, with incredible medical accuracy.
Edgar Allan Poe: 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.
Prince: World-famous singer Prince was quoted speaking about his epilepsy: “I’ve never spoken about this before, but I was born epileptic and I used to have seizures when I was young,” he told US talk-show host Tavis Smiley. “And my mother and father didn’t know what to do or how to handle it, but they did the best they could with what little they had.”
Jason Snelling: Prior to his sophomore football season, Jason Snelling was diagnosed with epilepsy which caused him to take a medical redshirt during that season. His rushing average is still the fifth best on the all-time rushing list at Virginia. Off the field, Jason continues to very active in the Epilepsy Foundation both locally and nationally. In 2013, he participated in a national epilepsy walk in Washington, DC and supports their biggest fundraiser of the year, Taste of Love, as well as participates in the Magnolia Run to benefit that worthy cause.
Danny Glover: The Academy Award-winning actor struggled with epilepsy and seizures as a child. Like many people with epilepsy, he outgrew the disorder. Glover attributes part of his success to being able to recognize the warning signs of seizures after his first one at the age of 15. He said “Eventually, I could recognize it happening … Each time I got a bit stronger and the symptoms began to diminish to the point where I was ready to go on stage.”
Chief Justice John Roberts: When Chief Justice John Roberts experienced the second seizure of his life on July 30th, 2007, he may have become, in medical terms, an epileptic. Doctors classify anyone who has experienced two or more unexplained seizures as having epilepsy. His seizure, as well as an earlier episode that occurred 14 years ago, were “benign idiopathic,” meaning that their cause is unknown. The diagnosis of epilepsy, say experts, may not necessarily mean that Roberts will have to take anti-seizure medication, which can control the electrical activity of the brain, or have to be concerned that future events will impair his ability to function on the Supreme Court.
Lil Wayne: Lil Wayne, real name Dwayne Michael Carter Jr, suffers from epilepsy and has been hospitalized a number of times in recent years as a result of seizures. He stated that “this isn’t my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh seizure. I’ve had a bunch of seizures, y’all just never hear about them.”