People who had Covid-19 are more likely to develop epilepsy than those who had flu, study finds

Published: December 07 2022
Last updated: May 12 2023

A new study published on the American Academy of Neurology online issue suggests a relationship between Covid-19 infection and developing epilepsy or seizures.

The study, supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, took into consideration two groups, each of 152,754 patients: the first group included people who’d had Covid-19 within the past six months; the second group included people who’d had influenza (flu) within the same period.

People in the first group were 55% more likely to develop epilepsy or seizures over the six months after their Covid-19 infection compared to those who had flu: the rate of new cases of epilepsy or seizures was 0.94% in the first group; 0.60% in the second group.

Particularly, the risk of seizures was more prevalent among children, and more frequent in those who didn’t need hospitalisation following a Covid-19 infection.

Limitations of the study include the researchers’ inability to identify the specific virus variants patients had been infected with, a type of information which would potentially influence the results.

Neurologist Arjune Sen, who led the research, said: “People should interpret these results cautiously since the overall risk is low. We do, however, recommend that health care professionals pay particular attention to individuals who may have more subtle features of seizures, such as focal aware seizures, where people are alert and aware of what is going on, especially in the three months following a less severe Covid-19 infection.” More information on the study can be found here.

Epilepsy Action are also working with researchers in Wales to understand the impact that the pandemic had on people with epilepsy, and access to epilepsy services.

Research into the impact of the pandemic on people with epilepsy will be important in ensuring that we learn lessons for the future as we work to ensure that people with epilepsy are able to access the services they need.