Article published by The Conversation
Epilepsy is more common as we get older, and the main risk factor for the condition in later life is stroke. Given that COVID affects older adults most severely and can result in stroke, some might speculate that COVID could see more people develop epilepsy. Whether this is actually the case, though, has been difficult to prove.
In a new study, we’ve found that the risk of seizures or epilepsy following a COVID infection is significantly higher than after an influenza infection.
To try to more definitively answer whether COVID is associated with epilepsy or seizures, we looked at the health records of people who had been infected with COVID. We then carefully matched them (so that they were similar in characteristics like age, sex and medical conditions) with a group of people who had been infected with influenza.
Each group consisted of 152,754 people, none of whom had previously been diagnosed with epilepsy or recurrent seizures. We compared the incidence of epilepsy and seizures between the two groups over a six month period following the initial infection.
The rate of new cases of epilepsy or seizures was 0.94% in the people who had COVID, compared with 0.6% in those who had influenza. While the overall risk of seizures is therefore small, these cases show that people who had COVID were 55% more likely to develop epilepsy or seizures over the next six months than people who had influenza.
We then looked to see if certain groups were particularly susceptible to seizures or epilepsy after COVID. We found that, compared to influenza, children aged under 16 and people who were not hospitalized were more likely to develop epilepsy or seizures.