COVID-19 Found to Elevate Risk of Seizures More Than Influenza

Individuals who had COVID-19 were 55% more likely to develop epilepsy or seizures over the following 6 months than those who had influenza.

People who have had a COVID-19 infection are more likely to develop seizures or epilepsy over the following 6 months than those who have had influenza, according to a study published in Neurology. The elevated risk was found to be more pronounced in children than adults and among those who did not require hospitalization for COVID-19.

“While the overall risk of developing seizures or epilepsy was low—less than 1% of all people with COVID-19, given the large number of people who have been infected with COVID-19, this could result in increases in the number of people with seizures and epilepsy,” said study author Arjune Sen, MD, PhD, of the University of Oxford in England, in a press release. “In addition, the increased risk of seizures and epilepsy in children gives us another reason to try to prevent COVID-19 infections in kids.”

The study authors analyzed a health records network for individuals with COVID-19 infections. This population was matched with patients diagnosed with influenza during the same period and who were of similar age, sex, and other similar factors, such as additional medical conditions. Across both the COVID-19 and influenza groups, there were 152,754 people each.

None of the participants were previously diagnosed with epilepsy or recurrent seizures. The investigators then sought to determine whether people developed epilepsy or seizures in the following 6 months.

Individuals who had COVID-19 were 55% more likely to develop epilepsy or seizures over the following 6 months than people who had influenza. The rate of new cases of epilepsy or seizures was 0.94% in those who had COVID-19 compared with 0.60% among individuals who had influenza.

“People should interpret these results cautiously since the overall risk is low,” Sen said in a press release. “We do, however, recommend that health care professionals pay particular attention to individuals who may have more subtle features of seizures, such as focal aware seizures, where people are alert and aware of what is going on, especially in the three months following a less severe COVID-19 infection.”

For study limitations, the researchers were unable to identify which specific virus variants people were infected with, which may have influenced results, according to the study authors.

REFERENCE

Study finds risk of seizures is higher after COVID-19 than after influenza. American Academy of Neurology. November 16, 2022. Accessed November 17, 2022. https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/5029

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