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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.