Q: Can the coronavirus (COVID-19) cause seizures and are patients with epilepsy at higher risk?
A: We already know there are a number of neurological complications that can be caused or complicated by COVID-19 and evidence now suggest that seizures could be another one of those issues.
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Research has shown that, among other things, delirium and risk of stroke are both possible symptoms that come with COVID-19 infections. So it makes sense that other neurological conditions could come into play for patients and that includes seizures.
Seizures have been observed in COVID-19 patients who don’t have epilepsy but why that happens is still not fully clear.
One primary way the virus may trigger these seizures is related to how the virus enters the nervous system. It’s possible it causes a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier by producing too many cytokines, molecules that carry communication within and regulate our immune system.
We’ve seen that COVID-19 can cause events called “cytokine storms” where the virus causes the body to over-produce cytokine which can cause damage and inflammation in various organs. The effects of this inflammation on the brain could explain these seizures.
As of right now, there’s no evidence that people with epilepsy are any more at risk of contracting COVID-19 than others. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore guidelines – wearing a mask, social distancing, frequently washing your hands.
It’s critical, though, that epilepsy patients who have comorbidities, like hypertension or obesity, follow these precautions to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
And it’s still important, especially if you have epilepsy, to keep up with your medications and healthcare appointments during the ongoing pandemic. Providers have worked hard to ensure a clean, safe environment for patients so they can continue to receive the essential care they need.
— Neurologist Stephen Hantus, MD