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Beckham epilepsy article criticised

[Posted: Mon 06/11/2006]

By Deborah Condon

An article about David and Victoria Beckham's son being diagnosed with epilepsy, which appeared in a popular UK Sunday tabloid, has been severely criticised by Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association.

Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical impulses in the brain. People with the condition have recurring seizures. These seizures can vary from person to person. In more than half of all cases, no cause can be found. An estimated 40,000 Irish people have the condition.

On Sunday, November 5, the News of the World, which sells in excess of 160,000 copies per week in Ireland, carried a front page article on the Beckhams' four-year-old child, Romeo. The headline on the article read Flash Can Kill Him!.

Speaking to, Brainwave chief executive, Mike Glynn, described the language used in the article as 'appalling' and 'totally sensationalist'.

According to the article, 'Posh and Becks were devastated when specialists confirmed that their four-year-old child has the brain condition which causes violent fits. Sufferers can die during an attack and many have to take medication for the rest of their lives'.

Mr Glynn pointed out that the use of the word sufferer is 'really inappropriate' and that those affected should be described as 'people with epilepsy' as this description 'makes the point that they are people first, but with a medical condition'.

As well as referring to 'violent fits', the article also describes seizures as 'grand and petit mal'. However Mr Glynn emphasised that these words and phrases 'have been out of use since the 1960s because they do not properly describe the seizures or seizure types they have been related to'.

The article goes on to state that 'flash photography is one of the trigger factors for epileptic seizures. In extreme cases, attacks can be fatal'. The News of the World doctor, Dr Hilary Jones, is then quoted as saying 'we do not know how seriously the condition affects Romeo, but if he is having grand mals, which cause the sufferer to thrash about and bite their tongue, it can cause a fatality'.

According to Mr Glynn, this quote is 'particularly offensive'. He points out that only 3-5% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, which means that they may have a seizure in response to flickering lights, such as flash photography and strobe lighting.

"It is not clear from the article whether Romeo has been diagnosed as having photosensitive epilepsy. While it is correct to say that seizures can be fatal, it would be most unusual for someone to die in the circumstances outlined in the article", he explained.

He said that the article 'will only add to the worry of the very small number of children in Ireland whose epilepsy is photosensitive'.

"The article only serves to add to the stigma around epilepsy. Its lurid, scaremongering language will only serve to make people scared to reveal that their child has epilepsy, although they will be heartened to realise that this condition can happen to anybody's child", Mr Glynn added.

He advised anyone with concerns about any aspect of epilepsy to contact Brainwave. For more information on the organisation, click on...

See also our Epilepsy Clinic, which was developed in association with Brainwave, at...

Are you a Health Professional? Log on to IrishHealthPro for more...


  Anonymous   Posted: 07/11/2006 17:33
The use of language in that article was indeed appaling and im glad someone has addressed it. Epilepsy is nothing to be scared about. The newspaper mentioned should be severly reprimanded
  Sallie  Posted: 08/11/2006 00:32
After reading the headline I expected some terrible article being negative about epilepsy & those that have it. Not so. Actually I think this is a bit of pc gone mad again. What is wrong with calling people with epilepsy, epilepsy sufferers? I don't see anything wrong with that, they are suffering from it. People with diabetes are called diabetics. It doesn't detract from the person. Neither does using the description grand or petit mal. In fact, I think it is beneficial. Why hide these things away? Its most important for anyone who is epileptic to have security in the knowledge that should they have a fit, the people around them will react accordingly. A grand mal is very frightening to see, but if you know what it is, you won't get frightened. Knowledge of these things cannot be bad & will help everyone in the long run.
  informed  Posted: 10/11/2006 01:29
Neomycin sulphate is an antibiotic used in some childhood vaccines. It can cause a rare type of epilespy or mental retardation in some people. Type the following into google search engine. vaccine ingredients
  Sallie  Posted: 10/11/2006 11:43
Thats an interesting nugget of info Informed. Yet another reason why we should all be vigilant in allowing the over use of anti biotics to continue especially with children.
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