Sleep Apnea May Promote Seizures in Epilepsy Patients

November 1, 2020
Avatar for Kelley MingusKelley Mingus

Epilepsy is a condition where the nerve cell activity which occurs in the brain becomes disrupted. This causes events called seizures, which can cause body tremors and even cause the loss of consciousness. The condition is somewhat common, affecting over 3 million Americans. Recently, a study in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior examined the connection between epilepsy and another common condition: sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea affects 20 million people each year. The condition occurs when a blockage to the airway in the lying down position causes the stopping and starting of breathing, snoring, low blood oxygen, and disrupted sleep. It has also been tied to many other medical conditions, including diabetes, depression, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and more. Now, it’s being tied to epilepsy and an increased risk of seizure.

According to the study in Epilepsy & Behavior, patients with what is known as generalized epilepsy that causes seizures to originate from both sides of the brain are at a higher risk for sleep apnea than patients who have focal epilepsy which only causes seizures to originate from one side of the brain. Another factor researchers found was that patients who were older, had a history of high blood pressure, and had a higher body mass index (BMI) were at a higher risk of sleep apnea. This is also true for patients who do not have epilepsy.

In the study, researchers examined 115 patients at a Level 4 Epilepsy Center. Of those 115 patients, 88 had focal epilepsy, while 27 had generalized epilepsy. The goal of the study was to better understand the connection between seizure frequency and the type of epilepsy the patient has.

So, what can be done to reduce the risk of seizure? Researchers in the study did not explicitly say, though the encouraged OSA screening in patients with epilepsy.
If you have epilepsy and OSA. it’s imperative that your OSA is under control. Speak to Dr. Mingus about your treatment options. Using a device such as a sleep appliance which props the mouth open to an angle that allows the airway to stay unobstructed during sleep is an effective solution for many patients. Dr. Mingus can customize a sleep appliance that is comfortable and customized to only you, allowing you to avoid awkward machinery and get a good night’s sleep.