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Many adults with epilepsy have fear of public spaces

By Cara Murez, HealthDay Reporter
More than a third of patients with epilepsy reported significant symptoms of phobia/agoraphobia, a recent study found. Photo by Flore W/Pixabay
More than a third of patients with epilepsy reported significant symptoms of phobia/agoraphobia, a recent study found. Photo by Flore W/Pixabay

Many adults with epilepsy have agoraphobia, or a fear of public places, new research suggests.

That impacts quality of life and is something doctors should include in other screening that looks for anxiety or depression, the investigators said.

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"We know that agoraphobia can lead to delays in patient care because of a reluctance to go out in public, which includes appointments with healthcare providers," said lead study author Dr. Heidi Munger Clary, an associate professor of neurology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. "So, this is an area that needs more attention in clinical practice."

Her team used data from a neuropsychology registry study to analyze a diverse sample of 420 adults, ages 18 to 75. The patients had epilepsy and underwent neuropsychological evaluation over a 14-year period at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

"More than one-third of the participants reported significant phobic/agoraphobic symptoms," Munger Clary said in a Wake Forest news release. "We also found that phobic/agoraphobic symptoms, along with depression symptoms, were independently associated with poor quality of life, but generalized anxiety symptoms were not."

The findings suggest a need for future studies, to develop more comprehensive screening for these types of psychiatric disorders in epilepsy, Munger Clary said.

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"Symptoms of agoraphobia do not fully overlap with generalized anxiety or depression symptoms that are often screened in routine practice," she noted.

"Providers might want to consider more robust symptom screening methods to identify and better assist these patients," Munger Clary said. "This may be important to improve health equity, given other key study findings that show those with lower education and non-white race/ethnicity had increased odds of significant phobic/agoraphobic symptoms."

About 5.1 million people in the United States have a history of epilepsy, a condition that causes repeated seizures.

The study, supported in part by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published recently in the journal Epilepsy Research.

More information

The Epilepsy Foundation has more on anxiety.

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