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Heart problems can cause epilepsy-like symptoms

10 Jul 2000

A study conducted at Manchester Heart Centre has indicated that over 40 per cent of people who have treatment resistant seizures, could have a cardiovascular problem not a neurological one.

Dr Amir Zaidi, the Cardiologist leading the study, observed 74 men and women who had been diagnosed with epilepsy – 36 of these had seizures despite taking medication, the other 38 had an uncertain diagnosis. All were subjected to two tests that can identify if people are having seizures due to cardiovascular problems. One of these is called the head tilt test, in which the participants were tilted upright for 45 minutes. This showed 19 of the participants experienced seizure like symptoms. They all had low blood pressure or slow heartbeat, a cardiovascular condition known as vasovagal syncope. Of the 19 affected, 12 had been taking AED’s (anti-epileptic drugs). 10 have since stopped their medication, and 3 of the 19 have had pacemakers fitted.

At the end of the research 31 of the 74 were given a new diagnosis, and 10 months later 19 of these are symptom free.

The research was published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr Kevin Monahan of the Arrythmia Service at the Boston Medical Center, USA, felt that the study “confirms the suspicions of cardiologists that many patients diagnosed with epilepsy do not suffer from a true seizure disorder, but have problems with cardiac arrythmias.”

Anyone with seizures that do not respond to AED’s, especially if they have a family history of heart disease, should discuss seeing a cardiologist with their GP – Monahan suggests.

Comments: read the 3 comments or add yours


I see this article is dated July 2000, Has any new information come out as far as her conditions and epilepsy?

Submitted by Cheryl Ebersole on

Hi Cheryl


The NHS clinical guidelines for epilepsy suggest heart conditions are check for when someone has their first seizure or they have difficult to control epilepsy.


The specialist should carry out a physical examination. This should include checks on your heart and brain. If necessary, they may also ask you to see professionals with training in other areas, such as a cardiologist (a doctor who specialises in heart problems).



If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Thursday 8.30am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.





Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane - Epileps... on

When I first told a doctor I woke up feeling dizzy with sore muscles he concluded I had a nocturnal seizure. This was 15 years ago and I am 58 yrs old now. After multiple CT scans and MRI's nothing has ever appeared abnormal. I've never had a seizure while being monitored so there is no proof I have a seizure disorder however I've been prescribed Valproic acid all along. Just recently I fainted and was in a car accident. The emergency room doctor suggested a heart ultrasound and a Holter monitor. When I was born in 1961 Patent Ductus Arteriosus was found and wasn't addressed. The valve closed when I was 12 or 13 years old. Is it possible the valve might have re opened causing occasional dizziness and anti epileptic drugs aren't the answer?

Submitted by Trevor on