What we know about COVID-19, epilepsy and seizures

X-ray of epilepsy patient (Photo: Cleveland Clinic News Service)

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.

Epilepsy affects the central nervous system and causes seizures.

While people with epilepsy are no more at risk for COVID-19 than the rest of us, doctors say they still need to be careful, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

“Basically, it’s avoiding high concentrations of people and avoiding indoor settings where you’re breathing the same air over and over again for a prolonged period of time,” said Stephen Hantus, MD, a neurologist at Cleveland Clinic.

He says it’s especially important to take COVID-19 precautions if you have epilepsy and comorbidities, for example if you’re a smoker, have hypertension or obesity.

According to Dr. Hantus, what’s interesting about COVID-19 is that it can actually induce seizures in those who don’t have epilepsy. Why that happens though is still unclear.

“We’re not exactly sure how COVID causes seizures,” he said. “It gets in there, we think, into the nervous system by either causing a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier by producing too many cytokines, which then causes some inflammatory changes, which affects the brain.”

Dr. Hantus says it’s also important to make sure you’re not skipping medical appointments due to the pandemic.

He says some people might be scared they’ll contract COVID-19, but most medical offices have safety measures in place to help prevent that.