Veteran Senator Mitch McConnell froze mid-sentence and stared blankly during a press conference today just weeks after a near-identical episode.
The 81-year-old’s team has denied theories that the senator is unwell, saying only that he was ‘lightheaded’, but doctors told DailyMail.com the symptoms had all the hallmarks of a seizure.
Dr Keith Vossel, a neurologist from the University of California Los Angeles, said that while most think of seizures as being violent fits, ‘absence seizures’ cause sudden loss of awareness of one’s surroundings and a lack of responsiveness.
This is due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain that knocks chemical processes between nerve cells out of balance.
McConnell suffered a severe fall in March in which he sustained some broken ribs and a concussion, which Dr Vossel said may have led to an accumulation of blood between the layers of tissue that surround the brain, called a subdural hematoma.
He said: ‘That’s more common in older adults and down the road that can actually lead to increased risk of seizures because the blood clots that surround the brain can irritate the cortical structures and lead to excess brain activity.’
While he was quick to stress he is not the senator’s treating physician, Dr Vossel’s area of focus is brain disorders that primarily affect seniors.
McConnell had a hard time understanding a reporter at a Kentucky press gathering, went silent, and froze in place for a little over 30 seconds.
McConnell’s office later said the Senator was ‘lightheaded’, and insisted he was ‘fine’, but he would consult a doctor as a precaution.
But after reviewing the video, Dr Vossel told DailyMail.com: ‘His eyes flutter a little bit and his eyes are drifting off to the right. That means that a seizure can be happening in the left side of his brain, which pushes his eyes to the right.
‘If somebody’s right-handed, their left side of the brain is more important for language, so it did strike me that his eyes start drifting to the right as he’s freezing.
‘And then he’s smacking his lips a little bit and his eyes fluttered a little bit. So, to me, this looks like an absence seizure.’
The mention of seizures typically conjures up visions of people convulsing wildly and frothing at the mouth, but a non-motor seizure like the one that Sen McConnell is believed to have suffered is more difficult to recognize and often misdiagnosed.
The absence seizure that appears to be a likely culprit does not manifest in the same way as motor seizures and typically lasts less than a minute.
An absence seizure, also known as a petit mal seizure, results from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Dysfunctional flow of ions, or charged particles that help nerve cells in the brain communicate, cause erroneous surges of electrical impulses.
It typically impacts a person’s awareness of the world around them and they become momentarily disconnected from external stimuli, including verbal cues or questions.
Age is a major risk factor for absence seizures, while concussions are less so. That is not to say that his March concussion was innocuous, though.
He was treated for a concussion earlier this year following a fall at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Washington, DC, which was formerly the Trump International Hotel.
Speculation has been rife that the Senator suffered strokes linked to his concussion in March, though Dr Vossel is less than convinced.
He said: ‘I think if he had had an actual stroke, he would have had some residual effects after he fell that would have been noticed, like drooping on the side of the face or not moving one side as well as the other or speech problems.’
The first episode in which McConnell appeared to suffer an unknown neurological issue occurred just over a month ago during his regularly scheduled press conference on Capitol Hill.
In the middle of his remarks, the senator trailed off for about 30 seconds, frozen in place, until he was led away shortly after.
He said nothing for that half a minute despite being asked by fellow lawmakers who joined the briefing if he was okay or if he wanted to say anything else to the press.
He returned to the briefing a few minutes later and subsequently insisted that he was ‘fine,’ but his assurances did not hold the public back from speculating that he had suffered a stroke mid-sentence.
Dr Vossel said: ‘On the first episode, I was worried that he might be having an absence or petit mal seizure because with those types of spells, they are short lived.
‘And when people are experiencing them, they may not realize that they’re having the seizure, and when they come out of it, they might not realize that anything had happened.’
Unlike during the first episode in which Mr McConnell said nothing, in the second incident on Wednesday, he elicited a faint ‘yes’ when an aide asked closer to the senator if he had heard the reporter’s question regarding his 2026 re-election bid, though he seemed unable to answer further.
‘These types of spells can affect one’s receptive language abilities, not just expressive language abilities.
‘And so it wouldn’t be surprising if, like a petit mal seizure could have been happening when he was not able to comprehend as well as others in the room,’ Dr Vossel said.