Study finds stress a common seizure trigger in epilepsy

Stress has been a known trigger for seizures in epilepsy for the last 50 years.

By Amy Wallace

April 3 (UPI) -- A research analysis from the University of Cincinnati Epilepsy Center aims to help researchers better understand the relationship between stress and epilepsy.

Stress is one of the most commonly reported triggers for seizures among epilepsy patients.


Previous research has shown that stress can increase seizure susceptibility and increase the risk of the development of epilepsy in cases of severe or prolonged stress.

"Studies to date have looked at the relationship from many angles," Dr. Michael Privitera, director of the UC Epilepsy Center and professor in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the UC College of Medicine, said in a press release. "The earliest studies from the 1980s were primarily diaries of patients who described experiencing more seizures on 'high-stress days' than on 'low-stress days.'"

Privitera and Dr. Heather McKee, analyzed 21 studies from the 1980s to present from patients' diaries of stress levels and the association of seizure frequency.

"Most all [of these studies] show increases in seizure frequency after high-stress events," Privitera said. "Studies have also followed populations who have collectively experienced stressful events, such as the effects of war, trauma or natural disaster, or the death of a loved one."


All of the studies showed an increased seizure risk during episodes of stress. A 2002 study on children during the war in Croatia in the early 1990s showed that children in war-affected areas had more seizures than children not in war-affected areas. The study also found that 10 years after the first epileptic seizure, when removed from the war setting, more people had control of their epilepsy.

"Stress is a subjective and highly individualized state of mental or emotional strain," McKee said. "Although it's quite clear that stress is an important and common seizure precipitant, it remains difficult to obtain objective conclusions about a direct causal factor for individual epilepsy patients."

Researchers found there were higher anxiety levels in patients with epilepsy who reported stress as a seizure precipitant and patients who feel stress is a seizure trigger should be screened for anxiety.

"What I think some of these studies point to is that efforts toward stress reduction techniques, though somewhat inconsistent, have shown promise in reducing seizure frequency," Privitera said. "We need future research to establish evidence-based treatments and clarify biological mechanisms of the stress-seizure relationship."

The study was published in the European journal Seizure.


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