There have been suggestions in the past that a link between depression and epilepsy is possible, but no solid evidence pertaining to the actual reason for this had been found until researchers in New York conducted their latest study.
“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,” said Dale C. Hesdorffer, PhD, of the Gertrude Sergievsky Center at Columbia University. Hesdorffer is the lead author of the study.
Major depression has been thought to increase a person’s risk of developing epilepsy. Based on this, researchers studied 324 children and adults in Iceland over the age of 10 who had recently been diagnosed with unprovoked seizures. They wanted to know whether or not it was due to symptoms from depression. There were 647 control subjects involved in the study.
The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not major depression was the cause of unprovoked seizures and, if so, which symptoms were the cause for the increase in cases.
Researchers found that even when taking age, sex, alcohol intake, and depression into account, those who had the illness were at a higher risk of attempting suicide.
In addition, depression was 1.7 times more common among those with unprovoked seizures than those in the control group. Also, attempted suicide was 5.1 times more common, which led to the conclusion that both major depression and attempted suicide increased the risk of unprovoked seizures.
Based on the data, researchers concluded that depression and suicide attempts could be related to “different underlying neurochemical pathways,” which could lead to epilepsy. Keep in mind that further research is still necessary to ascertain this.
While the onset of depression and thoughts of suicide due to epilepsy can be related to the difficulty of living with the condition, many were unsure as to why the opposite would occur — that seizures would begin after depression had set in or suicide attempts had transpired.
“One question we had was whether some symptoms of depression were more important than others for increasing the risk for developing epilepsy,” Hesdorffer said.
“Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts 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,” he said.
Depression increased the risk of epilepsy, while those who had previously attempted to commit suicide were four times more likely to have a seizure. This suggests that in the future, doctors might want to ascertain whether or not a patient who has a seizure also has underlying depression and a history of attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts as well.
Future studies will still need to be conducted in order to determine further relationships between the three conditions and underlying neurotransmitter abnormalities.