What is sunflower syndrome?
Sunflower syndrome is a type of photosensitive epilepsy that typically presents in childhood. It causes a specific type of seizure called a “reflex seizure” that is characterized by an individual turning toward the sunlight or other bright light and waving one hand in front of their eyes. Sunflower syndrome is often misdiagnosed as tics or stereotypies, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and inappropriate treatment.
Often the hand waving episodes can be triggered by natural sunlight, but also by video games, social media clips, and even certain movies. The compulsive behavior of pointing to the sunlight or other bright lights can become an addiction for some individuals.
While researchers don’t know what causes sunflower syndrome, it may be genetic. The condition appears to affect about 1,300 people worldwide. Individuals with the disorder can experience a variety of seizure types, including absence seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, and myoclonic seizures (jerks that last for a few seconds, similar to a brief twitch). The most common type of seizures related to sunflower syndrome are myoclonic seizures.
Many patients with this disorder are prescribed anti-seizure medications. They may be given valproic acid, levetiracetam, or clobazam. Some researchers believe that an appetite suppressant that was banned two decades ago, fenfluramine—often combined with other drugs and sold as the diet drug Fen-Phen—may be effective in treating sunflower syndrome. A new study aims to find out if low doses of the drug can reduce seizures in sunflower syndrome patients without causing heart damage.