THERMOGRAPHIC ANOMALIES IN EPILEPSY PATIENTS
David McMillin, M.A., Douglas Richards, Ph.D., Eric Mein, M.D.,
and Carl Nelson, D.C.
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The purpose of this study was to explore the feasibility of a hypothesis
put forth by Edgar Cayce regarding the pathophysiology of epilepsy. Cayce
stated that "From every condition that is of true [idiopathic] epileptic
nature there will be found a cold spot or area between the lacteal duct
and the caecum" (Cayce, 1934). Cayce's explanation for the significance
of such abdominal physiology is that "[vibration] is distributed to the
body from that center of the body in solar plexus brain, or from those
centers about the umbilicus, which are the electronic and atomic vibratory
radiations of a human body" (Cayce, 1926).
Two specific objectives of this study were to collect preliminary data
regarding Cayce's abdominal epilepsy hypothesis that (1) could be gathered
with a minimal budget; and (2) would be plausible to potential participating
neurologists and epilepsy patients who might be recruited for a larger,
controlled study should the initial evidence warrant further investigation.
TYPE OF STUDY
The project was an exploratory, descriptive study comparing abdominal
thermograms of epilepsy patients with thermograms of patients with other
conditions and healthy normals.
It utilized retrospective analysis of data. It involved no intervention.
During the past 8 years we have evaluated 79 adults using liquid crystal
thermography (LCT) for assessing abdominal thermal patterns. This data
set includes diverse medical diagnoses (such as bowel disease, migraine,
psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and asthma) and
healthy individuals. Included in this data are 6 epilepsy patients and
a migraine patient with an epileptic-like EEG. All seven epilepsy patients
were female adults.
Thermograms were made on Polaroid film using a Flexi-Therm LCT system.
The subjects were lying on their backs on a chiropractic or massage table.
Thermograms were made by placing the Flexi-Therm liquid crystal sheet on
the exposed skin of the abdomen, and photographing the resulting pattern
when it stabilized.
The outcome variables in this study are variations in abdominal thermographic
images in epilepsy patients as compared to controls (healthy normals and
patients with other conditions).
The abdominal LCT thermograms were via qualitative assessment by a team
of researchers experienced in LCT. The goal was to determine whether there
were visually apparent variations in the epilepsy patients with regard
to increased coldness on the right side of the abdomen as compared to the
left side in the epilepsy patients when compared to controls. Also, the
assessment focused on possible thermal configurations that were relatively
unique to epilepsy patients.
Abdominal thermograms of six epilepsy patients obtained using liquid
crystal thermography (LCT) indicate a notable cold area on the right side
of the abdomen as compared to the left side for each person. This pattern
seems to be more common in epilepsy patients than with other illnesses
or for healthy individuals. In four of the six cases of epilepsy the abdominal
cold spot is a distinct pattern that occurs slightly below the navel. In
two other cases the cool spot is less prominent and slightly above the
navel on the right side. In contrast, in non-epileptic control subjects,
no consistent pattern was noted. Table 1 provides graphic documentation
of the four epilepsy cases with distinctive thermographic anomalies as
compared to four nonepilepsy cases (2 normal, 1 asthma, 1 chronic fatigue
Edgar Cayce, a prominent figure in the development of the holistic medicine
movement in America, insisted that the etiology of most cases of idiopathic
epilepsy could be traced to the peripheral nervous system, usually to the
nerves of the abdomen. He also noted that abdominal thermal anomalies (especially
a cold area on the right side of the abdomen) could be found in such cases
(Cayce, 1934). This preliminary study supports the Cayce hypothesis.
The association of abdominal symptoms with epilepsy has been recognized
for many years. For example, "gastric and intestinal disturbances" were
viewed as primary etiological factors by medical doctors during the late
19th and early twentieth century (Musser and Kelly, 1912). Another example
of the abdominal connection in epilepsy is the aura that is common in certain
types of epilepsy. For example, temporal lobe epileptic seizures frequently
begin with an aura. In neurological terms, an aura is actually a mild seizure
that precedes the primary seizure. It can be thought of as a warning that
a seizure is about to happen. Most often, auras manifest as an altered
consciousness or peculiar sensation. "The most common aura is of vague
gastric distress, ascending up into the chest" (Gordon, 1942, p. 610).
Modern medical science has rediscovered the abdominal connection in
epilepsy. A few papers published in the medical journals during the 1960s
called attention to the abdominal features in epilepsy. Our extensive review
of the subject lists over 20 citations on the subject over the past twenty-five
years (McMillin et al., 1999). Common clinical features of abdominal epilepsy
include abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, and diarrhea with nervous system
manifestations such as headache, confusion, and syncope (Peppercorn and
Herzog, 1989). Although abdominal epilepsy is diagnosed most often in children,
the research of Peppercorn and Herzog suggests that abdominal epilepsy
may be more common in adults than generally realized.
One of the primary problems in understanding abdominal epilepsy is clearly
defining the relationship of the abdominal symptoms to the seizure activity
in the brain. Is the essential pathology in certain areas of the brain
that happen to be connected to the abdominal organs? Or, is the primary
pathology in the abdomen, which is conveyed through connecting nerve fibers
to the brain, resulting in epileptic seizures? Peppercorn and Herzog noted
both possibilities (1989), citing the vagus nerve as a logical source of
nerve impulse between the brain and the gut.
The vagal link in epilepsy has also received attention with regard to
a surgical procedure in which a pacemaker is implanted on the vagus nerve
in the upper chest. Regular stimulation of the vagus has reduced or eliminated
seizure activity in some treatment-resistent patients (e.g., Lundgren et
al., 1998). If stimulation of the peripheral nervous system, in this case
the vagus, can reduce seizure activity in the brain, perhaps pathological
irritation of this or other peripheral nerves may also play a role in the
etiology of certain forms of epilepsy.
Reflex epilepsy provides the key to understanding possible abdominal
nerve involvement in the etiology of epilepsy. Reflex epilepsy includes
a group of epileptic syndromes in which seizures are induced by a stimulus
that may be simple (e.g., visual, somatosensory, olfactory, auditory) or
complex (e.g., eating, thinking, reading). Most cases of documented reflex
epilepsy are diagnosed because the triggering stimulus is easily identified.
Visceral stimuli that leave a vasomotor signature could serve as
reflex stimuli that are not as obvious as the typical reflex precipitants
of seizure. We may be detecting such visceral reflex patterns in
One of the important questions that we have about our tentative findings
is how to explain the underlying physiology that can link abdominal thermal
variations to the etiology or pathophysiology of epilepsy. The ANS vasomotor
system represents the leading candidate for connecting cutaneous thermography
to neurologic illness. Thermography of biological systems assesses the
status of dermal thermoregulatory function. The hypothalamus is believed
to be the primary regulator of core temperature for body-heat maintenance
(Bentzinger, 1969). This is essentially a systemic process by which the
organism coordinates body temperature with internal (e.g., fever) and external
(e.g., room temperature) factors and conditions. More precise local thermoregulation
within each spinal dermatome may account for changes in dermal temperatures
along the torso and extremities (Simon, 1975). This is generally described
as a vasomotor process by which the sympathetic (SNS) division of the ANS
regulates blood flow by dilating or constricting arterioles and capillaries
within the innervated dermatome. Vasodilation tends to increase dermal
temperature while vasoconstriction has the opposite effect. Thus the hypothalamic
systemic regulation of temperature serves as a background against which
location variations in ANS vasomotor function are manifested. We may have
detected such local ANS vasomotor variations in our epilepsy patients.
Normal body surface temperatures are essentially symmetrical. Bilateral
cutaneous thermal asymmetries and anomalies are suggestive of ANS vasomotor
dysfunction, unless an identifiable surface feature (such as scar tissue
or adhesion) is present to account for the variation. Likewise thermal
anomalies in adjacent dermatomes are regarded as suggestive of sympathetic
neuronal dysfunction (Korr, 1962). Some theorists maintain that SNS vasomotor
function is closely associated with SNS visceromotor functioning. Thus
thermographic anomalies may represent a "window on the sympathetic system"
(Abernathy, 1988). With regard to the thermographic anomalies in our epilepsy
data, the cold spot on the right side of the abdomen may represent an underlying
ANS dysfunction that appears to be distinctive for that disorder within
our limited sample. The ANS dysfunction could help account for the common
abdominal/visceral symptoms within one or more subgroups of epilepsy.
In summary, the thermographic anomalies that we have measured in a small
group of epilepsy patients may be linked to epileptic phenomena relating
to the viscera (e.g., reflex epilepsy, visceral premonitions and auras,
abdominal epilepsy, and vagus nerve involvement). If these findings are
valid, the data could advance our understanding of the etiology of a physiologically
distinct subgroup of epilepsy in which innovative treatment options directed
at the peripheral nervous system and visceral organ systems may be developed
as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) options. Future studies
will be required to validate these tentative findings. Based on the preliminary
data, investment in more expensive equipment (digital infrared camera and
software) and recruitment of a much larger sample are warranted.
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Abdominal thermograms of four cases of epilepsy and four nonepilepsy
[Note: This paper was presented at the Thirteenth Annual ISSSEEM
Conference in Boulder, Colorado on June 22, 2003.]
Epilepsy Case 1
Epilepsy Case 2
Epilepsy Case 3
Epilepsy Case 4