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Links between epilepsy, suicide and depression researched

13 October, 2005

Researchers have
found evidence that the brain dysfunction that underlies epilepsy may
also determine whether people are at risk of suicide.

The study published in the journal Annals of Neurology also suggests that depression and suicide may have different brain mechanisms.

It
had been commonly assumed by researchers that the difficulties
associated with living with epilepsy could provoke depression and, in
some cases, an increased risk of suicide. However, the researchers in
this new study said that it is harder to explain the opposite findings,
that people who develop depression have a higher risk of later
experiencing a first seizure.

The
researchers compared data for both epilepsy and depression in 324
people with epilepsy and 647 without the condition. They found that a
history of depression increased the risk of epilepsy, but the
researchers were surprised to find that people with epilepsy were four
times more likely to have attempted suicide before ever having a
seizure, even after other factors were taken into account like drinking
alcohol, having depression, age, and gender.

The
individual presence of other symptoms of depression, whether common (eg
depressed mood) or more rare (eg weight change) did not predict a
greater likelihood of later seizures.

While
this finding, the researchers claim, suggests common underlying brain
mechanisms for suicidal behaviour and epilepsy, the results also
suggest that depression and suicidal behaviour may be related to
different mechanisms.

Lead researcher Dr Dale Hesdorffer, of the Gertrude Sergievsky Center at Columbia University, said:

"One
question we had was whether some symptoms of depression were more
important than others for increasing the risk for developing epilepsy.
Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempt were possibilities, because
people with epilepsy seem to be more likely to commit suicide than the
general population. But we looked at all symptoms of depression.

"For
reasons that are not understood, depression both increases the risk for
developing epilepsy and is also common among people with epilepsy who
experience many seizures."

"Increasingly,
clinicians treating people with epilepsy ask about current depression,
but they may not ask about past suicide attempt or suicidal thoughts.
Our results may alert clinicians to the need to ask this question and
offer any needed counselling to prevent the occurrence of later
completed suicide."