The COVID-19 virus has spread quickly throughout the world. Most people with COVID-19 experience various symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue. People should take the precautions necessary to protect themselves and others, especially those with other medical conditions and illnesses.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which an individual can suffer sudden and recurrent seizures. These seizures generally include convulsions and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy can be a symptom of other brain diseases. However, many people who have epilepsy have no other brain-related issues.
Seizures by themselves aren’t necessarily a sign of epilepsy. To be considered for an epilepsy diagnosis, a person has to exhibit several unprovoked seizures, generally caused by abnormal electrical impulses in the brain.
Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder, and more than 65 million people¹ have it globally. Epilepsy can develop at any age, but it’s most commonly diagnosed in children and the elderly.
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Research² has found that COVID-19 infection can induce symptoms not directly associated with the infection, such as an increased risk of stroke and delirium. So it’s not a surprise that other neurological issues can also be induced by the virus.
Therefore, people with epilepsy may have an increased risk of seizures when infected with COVID-19. More in-depth research is needed before any conclusive claims can be made.
Research³ shows that epilepsy doesn’t increase an individual’s risk of being infected with COVID-19 and doesn’t increase the severity of symptoms.
However, regardless of how well a person may have their seizures under control, some people with epilepsy are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications because of other health conditions that may be present.
People with epilepsy may be taking medications to help control their seizures. But some drugs, such as immunotherapy medications and steroids, may also affect their immune system. Furthermore, people with epilepsy may have other medical issues which can increase their risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Coronaviruses like SARs-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, attack a person’s nervous system. A study⁴ from 2020 found that over one-third of study participants with COVID-19 had some degree of neurological manifestation of the disease.
The International League Against Epilepsy⁵ (ILAE) has indicated a low risk that seizures may worsen for people with epilepsy who contract COVID-19.
When people with epilepsy become sick from other illnesses, especially those with a fever, they can experience changes in seizure frequency. This is because illness stresses the body, which can increase seizure risk.
COVID-19 symptoms, such as lack of sleep, fever, and tiredness, can trigger seizures, make them more intense, and increase their duration. In addition, severe disease can result in cerebrovascular events, hypoxic encephalopathy, and a cytokine storm, which could trigger acute seizures.
However, a study⁶ from 2020 suggests that the risk of having seizures induced by COVID-19 is low unless the person is terminally or critically ill.
Research from 2019 found that 8–34%⁷ of patients who were critically ill had seizures. Symptoms experienced by these people included low blood oxygen levels, hypoglycemia, and electrolyte imbalances, all of which can cause seizures in patients with or without epilepsy.
A joint statement⁸ produced by the International Bureau of Epilepsy (IBE) and the International League Against Epilepsy states that people with epilepsy should get the COVID-19 vaccine provided they aren’t allergic to components of the vaccine.
So far, no evidence⁹ has been found to indicate a higher risk of COVID-19 vaccine side effects in individuals with epilepsy. A study¹⁰ concluded in 2021 found that the COVID-19 vaccination is well tolerated in individuals with epilepsy.
With most vaccines, a risk of side effects exists, such as fever, which can increase the risk of seizures. Following vaccination, you can take paracetamol to minimize the risk of this occurring.
Experts suggest that for people with epilepsy, the risk of developing COVID-19, along with its side effects, outweighs the risk of developing side effects from the vaccine.
COVID-19 can produce neurological symptoms, which can increase the risk of seizures. However, people with epilepsy don’t have an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.
Experts also advise that people with epilepsy should continue taking their antiseizure medications and receive the COVID-19 vaccine to decrease their risk of contracting the virus.
The risk of developing more severe COVID-19 symptoms is increased in some people. People over 65 and those with underlying medical problems are more likely to develop severe COVID-19.
COVID-19 can cause acute respiratory failure, liver injury, cardiac injury, pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
Follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)¹¹ to slow the spread of COVID-19. People at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 should take extra precautions to avoid the virus. The following guidance may be helpful:
Stay home if possible.
If a member of your direct family or someone who lives with you develops COVID-19:
Use separate bathrooms.
Wash your hands frequently.
Limit exposure or have them stay somewhere else.
If you have people come to your home to help care for you or a loved one, ensure that they follow good hygiene practices.
Keep approximately 6 feet away from people who are not masked or don’t live within your household group.
Avoid contact with sick individuals.
Follow community guidelines on when to wear a mask or self-quarantine.
Who can get epilepsy? | Epilepsy Foundation
COVID-19 FAQS for people with epilepsy and carers | International League Against Epilepsy
IBE and ILAE joint statement on COVID-19 vaccines and people with epilepsy | International Bureau for Epilepsy
COVID-19 vaccines and people with epilepsy | International League Against Epilepsy
How to protect yourself and others | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)