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Lightning stroke and neuropsychological impairment: cases and questions
  1. Adriaan H van Zomerena,
  2. Henk-Jan ten Duisb,
  3. Jan M Minderhouda,
  4. Mirjam Sipmab
  1. aDepartment of Neurology, University Hospital, Groningen, The Netherlands, bDepartment of Traumatology, University Hospital, Groningen, The Netherlands
  1. Dr A H van Zomeren, Academisch Ziekenhuis Groningen, Hanzeplein 1, Postbus 30 001, 9700 RB Groningen, The Netherlands.


OBJECTIVE To objectify neuropsychological impairments in survivors of lightning stroke with lasting complaints about poor concentration and inability to divide their attention.

DESIGN A series of six cases of lightning stroke were studied. All patients had lost consciousness and reported amnesia of varying length. Assessment took place between one and four years after injury, ensuring that their neurological state had stabilised. They were tested with a neuropsychological battery with an emphasis on attention and memory. Personality and emotional reaction to the accident were assessed with questionnaires and a lightning fear scale. Complaints were recorded by means of a trauma complaints list including 10 questions on symptoms of the post-traumatic stress disorder.

RESULTS Patients reported fatigue and lack of energy as their main complaints. In addition, poor concentration, irritability, and emotional lability were mentioned often. Neuropsychological tests disclosed mild impairments in memory, attention, and visual reaction times. Two patients could be classified as depressed, and one of these also showed convincing signs of the post-traumatic stress disorder.

CONCLUSION As the lasting complaints and impairments could not be explained, for all six cases, as resulting from head injury concomitant with lightning stroke, cerebral hypoxia or a post-traumatic stress syndrome, it is concluded that lightning stroke can result in subtle cognitive impairments. It is speculated that most complaints of these survivors are caused by a vegetative dysregulation, a disorder that has often been noted in the literature on the effects of electrical injury to the nervous system. Such a dysregulation might cause both the main complaint of fatigue and the mild cognitive impairments identified with the present test battery.

  • lightning stroke
  • neuropsychology
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

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