Benign Brain Tumor Triggers Fits. Part 1


While a growth on the brain is no laughing matter, one type of tumor-like mass may trigger mild epileptic seizures and also give patients the giggles, Australian doctors report.

In the current issue of the journal Neurology, physicians report on three patients with small, non-cancerous growths known as hypothalamic hamartomas. Located in the brain’s hypothalamus, these masses triggered mild seizures, along with the unusual symptom of feeling “pressure to laugh.” Dr. Samuel Berkovic, of the University of Melbourne, and his colleagues write that a continuing, unexplained urge to giggle may indicate such a mass in the brain.

The hypothalamus, described by Berkovic as “a tiny structure deep in the brain,” governs body functions such as temperature control and appetite, and is involved in emotional responses, including generating laughter. Often, hamartomas in this region result in behavioral problems, impaired mental abilities, and serious, treatment-resistant seizures. These three patients, however, had small hamartomas, and Berkovic and his colleagues speculate that the small size of the mass may explain why they experienced controllable seizures and the pressure to laugh — a symptom they “regarded as pleasant.” Each mass was about 5 millimeters in diameter, while more-serious hamartomas typically measure 1 to 2 centimeters.

The pressure-to-laugh feeling was sometimes followed by seizures that were controllable with medication. Nothing, though, stopped the urges to laugh, which had begun at a young age and continued into adulthood.

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