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A 45 year old man presented with a 1 day history of headache, possible seizures, and left sided weakness. On the day of presentation the patient's wife had twice found him, inexplicably, on the floor. After the second such episode she brought him to hospital for evaluation. Examination disclosed a complete left hemiplegia and hemianaesthesia, although muscle tone was documented to be normal and the plantar responses downgoing bilaterally. Brain CT was normal and routine blood examination was unremarkable. There were no further seizure-like episodes and the patient was transferred to this hospital 10 days later, hemiplegia unchanged, for possible angiography and further investigations.
He was an exsmoker with hypercholesterolaemia and peripheral vascular disease which had been treated by a left femoral angioplasty 5 years earlier. The angioplasty was complicated by the occurrence of a seizure, thought to be related to dye injection, and phenytoin had been prescribed for a short time thereafter. There was a remote history of heavy alcohol use, but he had been abstinent for several years. His father had had a stroke at the age of 65.
Six months earlier the patient had also collapsed at home and been taken to hospital with a left hemiplegia. Brain CT at that time was normal, as were carotid Doppler studies and an echocardiogram. During that admission to hospital, several generalised seizure-like episodes were seen, some with retained consciousness, and he had again been started on phenytoin therapy. A follow up outpatient brain MRI was normal and it was concluded that the hemiplegia was non-organic in origin. He was described to have made a gradual, near complete, recovery from this first hemiplegic episode and was scheduled for an imminent return to work at the time of his relapse. …