Monday 14 January 2019

"Childhood seizures and risk of psychiatric disorders in adolescence and early adulthood"

I want to bring the findings reported by Julie Dreier and colleagues [1] to your attention today and their observation that: "Children with epilepsy and febrile seizures-with and without concomitant epilepsy-are at increased risk of developing a broad range of psychiatric disorders in later life."

Researchers report results based on the examination of one of those ever-so-impressive Scandinavian population registries that have moved science forward in many, many different areas (see here for example). This time around it was the Danish National Patient Register and the inclusion of data from "1 291 679 individuals... born in Denmark and followed up in our population cohort (approximately 15 million person-years)." Over 43,000 individuals showed a history of febrile seizure - "fits that can happen when a child has a fever" - and over 10,000 had epilepsy. Likewise: "83 735 (6%) cohort members were identified with at least one of the psychiatric disorders of interest" including substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, mood disorder, anxiety, and personality disorder.

Results: "The risk of any psychiatric disorder was raised in individuals with a history of febrile seizures..., epilepsy..., or both disorders." The magnitude of the risk was categorised as statistically significant in terms of elevation but ranged from between a 10-50% increased risk. Further: "Excess risk of psychiatric illness associated with childhood seizures was present across a range of different disorders, most notably schizophrenia but also anxiety and mood disorders." Authors also opine that further research is needed on this topic with regards to mechanisms pertinent to identifying "potential options for prevention."

Although some caution is always required when one variable (epilepsy) is solely correlated with another (history of recorded psychiatric diagnosis), I am interested in the Dreier findings. I'm interested not only because of the *association* being made between a condition that often has life-changing effects on other often life-changing diagnoses but also because this *association* complements other links being made with epilepsy. I speak of the various studies linking epilepsy to diagnostic labels such as autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) of course (see here and see here for examples) whilst pointing out that ADHD and autism are not to be categorised as mental health conditions. Such links between epilepsy and neurodevelopmental diagnoses are all the more interesting because the presence of labels such as autism and ADHD are also known to manifest elevations in other psychiatric diagnoses such as mood disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia (see here and see here and see here for examples). It's not therefore unreasonable to suspect that there may be some 'over-arching' themes when it comes to epilepsy/febrile seizures 'linking' with various developmental and psychiatric diagnoses.

Minus any sweeping generalisations and being careful how I phrase this, one area that requires a lot more investigation is the neurological effect that epilepsy in particular can have. I speak of the idea that seizures can, in some cases, affect the physical nature of the brain [2] and the question of whether such 'damage' might also then affect the presentation of behaviour akin to the signs and symptoms of a neurodevelopmental or psychiatric diagnosis. I know this is not a particularly palatable line of thinking but it does require further scientific exploration. This is also pertinent to the Dreier study focusing in on childhood seizures and by inference, possible effects on the developing brain. Another area of further investigation is whether the presentation of epilepsy or seizures *might* be part-and-parcel of various syndromes also presenting with neurodevelopmental and/or psychiatric features? We do have some examples of this already (see here) and, given that various genetic syndromes are quite regularly being identified day-by-day, it's another area that could yield some important data.


[1] Dreier JW. et al. Childhood seizures and risk of psychiatric disorders in adolescence and early adulthood: a Danish nationwide cohort study. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2018 Dec 6. pii: S2352-4642(18)30351-1.

[2] Bronen RA. et al. The Status of Status: Seizures Are Bad for Your Brain's Health. American Journal of Neuroradiology. 2000; 21: 1782-1783.


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