Can Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Cause Changes In Personality?

For centuries, epilepsy was thought of as a condition that arose in people who were being controlled by goblins, evil spirits, or demons. Luckily, advances in research, education, and general understanding have demonstrated that epilepsy is not the work of something from another realm. Rather, it originates from abnormal electrical activity in some areas of the brain. 

While the key feature of epilepsy is seizures, some people find that the disease also affects other aspects of their lives. Temporal lobe epilepsy is one form of epilepsy that can significantly impact an individual’s personality and behavior. 

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What is the temporal lobe?

You have two temporal lobes, one on each side of the brain. They are positioned behind the ears. As part of the limbic system, your temporal lobe plays a key role in understanding language, face and object recognition, memory acquisition, and emotional processing.

The roles of the left and right temporal lobes have distinct differences, so the impacts of seizures on your behavior and personality may vary depending on where the seizure originates. 

What is focal epilepsy?

Focal epilepsy is a form of epilepsy in which seizures originate in one side of the brain. From here, the seizure may spread to affect both sides of the brain. 

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is the most common form of focal epilepsy. Generally, temporal lobe seizures last from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. 

What are the symptoms? 

Before the seizure begins, many individuals experience an aura. This is an unusual feeling or sensation that varies from person to person. During the seizure, you may have a fixed stare and be unaware of your surroundings. Other symptoms include: 

  • Loss of awareness 

  • Repeated swallowing or chewing 

  • Fumbling with fingers

Our personality

We are still waiting for someone to discover which part of the brain is responsible for making us who we are. For now, we know that our personality is determined by the complex interplay of many different factors—our genes, upbringing, culture, and social experiences. 

The limbic lobe is the part of the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes. It is thought to significantly contribute to your personality as it is responsible for many behavioral and emotional responses and determines which memories are stored and where. 

Epilepsy and personality

Norman Geschwind first identified the association of temporal lobe epilepsy with personality changes. 

He and other researchers found¹ that individuals with TLE presented with changes in personality and psychiatric symptoms, including affective dysregulation, irritability and impulsiveness, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, paranoia, altered social interaction, grandiosity, schizophrenic-like symptoms, dissociative states, hyperreligiosity, and hypergraphia. 

Geschwind syndrome and the notion that temporal lobe epilepsy will cause drastic changes in your personality have now become clouded in controversy. 

More recent research² has found that Geschwind syndrome should be investigated as a separate condition from temporal lobe epilepsy, suggesting that these two conditions arise in different parts of the brain and during different stages of life. 

Another research³ has found that overall, the occurrence of these drastic alterations in personality and psychiatric symptoms is a rare event. Little research has been carried out in recent years that support the concept of Geschwind syndrome in temporal lobe epilepsy or proves the direct link between these changes in behavior and epilepsy. 

Given that the evidence for Geschwind syndrome and the cluster of personality changes it involves is lacking, you may wonder if any recent research shows that temporal lobe epilepsy causes any personality changes.

Some evidence⁴ has found that epilepsy correlates with increased anxiety, depression, and suicidality. Part of this is due to the burden of epilepsy.

Epilepsy still has a lot of stigma surrounding it, which can cause those with epilepsy to have a more negative outlook on life. It can cause some individuals to feel isolated as it can be hard to share an epilepsy diagnosis with others. They might be worried about how the disease will impact their social interactions and their role in the workplace or community. 

You may experience some symptoms of anxiety or depression as you enter an adjustment phase following an epilepsy diagnosis. The encouraging news is that this can be addressed with early diagnosis, treatment, and access to adequate support services. 

The lowdown

Temporal lobe epilepsy, like any form of epilepsy, may cause changes in your behavior and personality. The evidence for the drastic development of psychiatric conditions or alterations in behavior resulting from temporal lobe epilepsy is relatively limited and controversial. 

Overall, it’s important to remember that any diagnosis can come with challenges. Getting appropriate treatment, talking to your friends and family, and gradually making adjustments so you can still fully participate in your life are some steps you can take to boost your well-being.

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