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'm pretty sure my son has seizure's caused from heart problems

Submitted by Margaret Whitaker

I to have had seizure problems with a prior pfo fixed at Bostons Childrens under case study 20 years past, Medications dont work to stop. I do not even remember Drs. name or any other information on anything other than it was a starflex divice. would be very interested on any advise on this matter. thank you Wayne I dont check my email often and I found this just trying to find answers myself . My doctors here in Maine havent had any luck with much.. just wondering if anyone would have any information for me to contact.

Submitted by Wayne Curtis

I have had heart problems since birth. I had my first seizure at age 53 that put me in a coma for 3 days. I had 2 valves and aorta fixed but heart still cannot get over 50 beats per minute. Now I find out the low heart beat could be the cause of seizures. WOW!

Submitted by Paul