A new study published in the journal Medical Humanties shines a light on a potentially overlooked diagnosis of Chopin's hallucinations: temporal lobe epilepsy. Chopin was a frail and deeply sensitive man who suffered from several health problems including pulmonary infections, recurrent coughing and fever. There have been many theories about specific diagnoses of what he suffered from and, since the results of his autopsy were lost, there is only speculation. Recent theories are that he had a genetic disease--cystic fibrosis or alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency.
However, there are also accounts that he suffered from another neurological disorder, hallucinations. The lead author of the study, Manual Vasquez Caruncho, turned to actual accounts of Chopin's hallucinations that he described himself and that other contemporaries wrote about, including his lover the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dupin). Chopin wrote to Sand's daughter that in the middle of a recital for friends he saw creatures emerge from his piano and he had to walk away to regain his composure. Sand wrote about an incident they experienced while in Majorca, Spain when Chopin dreamed that he was dead--drowned in a lake--and he could not distinguish the dream from reality.
The authors discount other explanations for the hallucinations, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression because his were visual rather than auditory hallucinations, they usually happened in the evening and they sometimes occured with fever, which is unlike psychotic hallucinations.
Chopin died in 1849 at 39, long before a substantial amount of information about epilepsy was published. The authors of the study hope a better understanding of what condition Chopin suffered from will "shed new light in order to better understand the man and his life."
Chair of the Epilepsy Foundation's Professional Advisory Board, Joseph Sirven, M.D., said: "The story of Chopin and his potential epilepsy is fascinating. It once again demonstrates that individuals both great and ordinary can be afflicted with the condition. It also underscores the point that epilepsy does not have to hinder one's goals or accomplishments."