Neurologists Are Skeptical of McConnell Diagnosis

Experts say video suggests small seizures are more likely the cause than dehydration
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2023 3:00 PM CDT
Experts: McConnell Video Suggests Small Seizures
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Graves County Republican Party Breakfast at WK&T Technology Park in Mayfield, Kentucky, on Aug. 5.   (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

Seven neurologists consulted by the New York Times say the video of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell freezing up while addressing reporters on Wednesday suggests the problem is more serious than the official explanation indicates. Dr. Brian Monahan, the Capitol's attending physician, has issued a statement that mentioned dehydration and recovery from a concussion as possible causes for the "occasional lightheadedness" that may have led to McConnell shutting down for 30 seconds at a time. "If I gave that tape to a medical student and that was his explanation, I'd fail him," said Dr. Orrin Devinsky, of NYU's medical school.

While conceding that they can't offer a remote diagnosis, the neurologists said videos can provide information leading to a diagnosis. "They're very helpful, because you're not subject to the vagaries of someone's description and you can capture the beginning of" the spell, said Dr. Anthony Kim of the University of California, San Francisco. Devinsky said doctors would want more data but added, "we do have this very powerful clinical information, which is quite honestly how I have to diagnose seizures and epilepsy all the time, often without the video." And dehydration and lightheadedness were not what the neurologists saw.

"The possibility at the top of my list would be a seizure," Kim said. Focal seizures, which can be caused by an irregularity in part of the brain, can stop and appear to isolate patients, per the Times. Mini-strokes are a possibility, but experts say they rarely have identical effects each time; McConnell has had two alike spells that were filmed. But they wouldn't preclude most people from carrying on as before with work or life. "Seizures have a stigma in our society, and that's unfortunate because these are very brief electrical interruptions in behavior," Dr. Jeffrey Saver of UCLA. Medication can control the episodes, he said, but they shouldn't be dismissed. "Two seizures you definitely would want to treat," said Dr. Sami Khella of Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. "You don't want them to happen—they're not good for you." (More Mitch McConnell stories.)

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