Advertisement
Health

So How Exactly Does a GIF Cause a Seizure?

Scientists can identify the triggers of photosensitive epileptic seizures, like strobes, but working out why these seizures happen is a little harder.

by Ben Sullivan
Mar 20 2017, 8:30pm

Very few people will ever have to suffer the terrible effects that strobes and flashing lights have on those diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy.

But for Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who last year suffered from a debilitating photosensitive seizure after viewing a strobing GIF sent by a Twitter troll, the dangers of flashing lights are all too real. "You deserve a seizure for your post," the suspect, John Rayne Rivello, said to Eichenwald, just before he sent the GIF.

This isn't the first time that people diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy have been maliciously targeted over the internet, though. In 2008 the Epilepsy Foundation had to temporarily shut down its website after hackers plastered the Foundation's forums with flashing images.

In the vast majority of cases, photosensitive epilepsy is a genetic condition that affects just three percent of all of those diagnosed with some form of epilepsy. Recent research, led by scientists at Imperial College London, suggested that an 'epileptic network' of some 320 genes, dubbed M30, is responsible for the condition. When this network malfunctions, epilepsy is triggered, concluded the paper.

But what's the science behind photosensitive seizures? While many of the triggers have been identified and can be avoided, such as the frequency of the flashing lights or the intensity of a light source (two factors that were prominent in the Eichenwald attack), doctors and scientists still poorly understand the actual mechanics of a seizure, according to the Epilepsy Society.

Read more on Motherboard.