Stating that earthquakes have important neurological effects on the nervous system as well as on the psychology of people, Near East University Hospital Yeniboğaziçi Neurology Specialist Dr. Tansel Ünal warns that people with Virtual Earthquake Syndrome may experience a feeling of shaking, dizziness and balance disorder by feeling that it is really an earthquake. Dr. Ünal says that epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients may experience an increase in seizure frequency after an earthquake.
The earthquakes that occurred in Turkey on February 6 devastated a large region covering 11 cities in Southern and Eastern Anatolia. Severe tremors were felt over a wide area, including Cyprus. According to the latest official statements, while the number of people who lost their lives reached 48 thousand, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. Stating that after the earthquakes, many people applied to the emergency services with complaints of shaking sensation, dizziness and balance disorder, Near East University Hospital Yeniboğaziçi Neurology Specialist Dr. Tansel Ünal says that these complaints may be caused by the neurological consequences that occur due to the sensitivity of the earthquake trauma in the brain.
Stating that this situation is called Virtual Earthquake (Phantom Earthquake) Syndrome in the literature, Dr. Tansel Ünal said, “These people say that they felt that the ground was shaking even though there was no earthquake activity at that time. This is the most common neurological picture in people who have felt an earthquake shaking, and it is completely different from the psychological fear and tension of a real ground shaking. These patients, who have experienced virtual earthquakes, now have to struggle with this situation, among other problems. They are very worried about being alone, constantly checking ceiling lights and furniture. They are very uncomfortable and restless.” So, how does this virtual earthquake syndrome occur?
Virtual Earthquake Syndrome creates real earthquake feeling!
“Balance is provided by the analysis of the signals sent from the inner ears, eyes, sensors in the legs and feet, in the balance center of the central nervous system. This system allows us to stand upright and uses the data it obtains to predict which direction is up. Normally, if we make an unpredictable move such as stepping on a lower ground than we think, the system quickly adapts because it knows what the real world is like,” said Near East University Hospital Yeniboğaziçi Neurology Specialist Tansel Ünal, and added; “According to one view, experiencing an unexpected crisis situation such as an earthquake temporarily disrupts this system, making the processing of the obtained data difficult, and therefore the person feels that there is an unexpected shock.” Dr. Ünal says that another view argues that it occurs because the system becomes oversensitive and gives false signals due to the extreme level of preparedness and alarm status of the individual who has experienced the earthquake.
Emphasizing that in most people who experience this situation, the symptoms regress spontaneously within a few weeks, Dr. Tansel Ünal said, “However, complaints can sometimes take longer. Especially in such cases, patients need treatment.” Emphasizing that informing the patient correctly is the first step of treatment, Dr. Ünal said, “First of all, the doctor should clearly explain that this condition is usually temporary and harmless. Also, as symptoms often occur in confined spaces, taking the patient out into the open air will provide temporary relief. Patients experiencing intense attacks are given medical treatment with the help of drugs and some simple maneuvers that they can perform themselves.”
The frequency of seizures may increase in patients with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s!
Dr. Ünal said, “Another important issue that needs to be emphasized regarding the earthquake in neurological terms is that the conditions of patients with chronic neurological diseases such as Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease tend to worsen frequently after the disaster. For example, under treatment, the suppressed and calm state of the disease can be reactivated. A patient with epilepsy who is under control with treatment may begin to have seizures again after a long time, or a sudden worsening of the general condition of a Parkinson’s patient may occur. This is a situation that should definitely not be neglected, and patients should be re-evaluated by their doctors as soon as possible and their treatment should be shaped.”