Serotonin linked to reduced breathing problems

Published: November 26 2019
Last updated: September 28 2022

New research has found that higher levels of serotonin in the blood after a seizure are linked to a lower rate of seizure-related breathing problems.

Serotonin is the chemical in the body that helps control things like mood, behaviour, appetite and digestion, sleep memory and sleep.

The study, published online in Neurology in September, involved 49 people with difficult-to-treat epilepsy. They spent time in an epilepsy monitoring unit and were examined for one seizure.

The researchers looked at the electrical activity in the brain and the heart, oxygen levels in the blood, and changes in blood flow. Blood samples were collected within about 10 minutes after the seizure finished and again at least 12 hours later to measure serotonin levels.

A total of 35% had apnoea during their seizures, and 30% had apnoea after their seizures. Apnoea is when breathing is temporarily stopped during sleep.

Researchers found that serotonin levels after a seizure were higher than before a seizure in people who did not temporarily stop breathing during a seizure.

For 32 people who did not temporarily stop breathing during a seizure, serotonin levels were higher than those before a seizure. For 17 people who did temporarily stop breathing, their serotonin levels were not significantly higher compared to before a seizure.

Researchers also found that a higher heart rate was accompanied by higher serotonin levels after a seizure in people who did not temporarily stop breathing after a seizure.

Samden Lhatoo is the study author from McGovern Medical School at University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Texas. “Our results give new insight into a possible link between serotonin levels and breathing during and after seizure,” he said.

“This may give hope that perhaps someday new therapies could be developed that may help prevent SUDEP.

“However, our study was small and much more research is needed to confirm our findings in larger groups before any treatment decisions can be made. It is also important to note that excess serotonin can be harmful, so we strongly recommend against anyone trying to find ways to increase their serotonin levels in response to our study findings.”

Click here for the full study.