COVID-19 may increase risk of seizures after infection, study finds

COVID-19 may increase risk of seizures after infection, study finds

Compared to patients who have an influenza infection, people infected with SARS-CoV-2 have a higher risk of epilepsy and seizures, a new study has found.

According to a recent study published online in Neurology.

“Although the overall risk of developing seizures or epilepsy is low – less than 1% of all people with COVID-19 – given the large number of people infected with COVID-19, this could lead to an increase number of people with seizures and epilepsy,” study author Arjune Sen, MD, PhD, of the University of Oxford, said in a statement. seizures and epilepsy in children gives us another reason to try to prevent COVID-19 infections in children.”

Using the TriNetX Analytics health record network for people infected with COVID-19, researchers matched these patients to someone similar in age, gender and other factors who was diagnosed with influenza during the same time period. . The study included 152,745 people each in the COVID-19 and flu groups. None of the participants had a history of epilepsy or a diagnosis of recurrent seizures.

The overall incidence of developing seizures within 6 months of COVID-19 infection was 0.81% (95% CI, 0.75-0.88), and the risk was 55% greater than that of patients who had an influenza infection (RR, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.39-1.74; P < .0001). The overall incidence of epilepsy was 0.30% (95% CI, 1.87-1.54) and study participants with a diagnosed case of COVID-19 had an 87% higher risk of developing epilepsy compared to those with influenza (HR, 1.87; 95% CI, 1.54-2.28; P < .0001). Additionally, rates of new cases of seizures in people with COVID-19 were 0.94%, with patients again at 55% higher risk (HR, 1.55; 95% CI , 1.40-1.72; P < 0.0001) compared to those who had the flu.

In addition, the risks of epilepsy or seizures after COVID-19 infection were higher in children (< 16 years old; n = 43,231) and adults (> 16 years old; n = 108,116) vs after influenza infection:

  • Children: 1.34% versus 0.69% (HR, 1.85; 95% CI, 1.54-2.22; P < .0001)
  • Adults: 0.84% ​​versus 0.54% (HR, 1.56; 95% CI, 1.37-1.77; P < .0001)

The markedly different results seen between children and adults were unexpected, the researchers noted, even though previous research shows that COVID-19 affects children and adults differently.

Additionally, the researchers acknowledge that they were unable to identify the specific virus variants that people were infected with, which may have influenced the results. Other limitations mentioned were unknown completeness of records, lack of diagnostic validation, and lack of information on socioeconomic factors and lifestyle.

Since epilepsy and seizures are rare outcomes of COVID-19 infection, researchers support continued data sharing across multiple health centers as well as open access and transparent repositories and reporting of the epilepsy and seizures after COVID-19.

“People should interpret these results with caution because the overall risk is low,” Sen said. “However, we recommend that healthcare professionals pay particular attention to people who may have more subtle features of seizures, such as conscious focal seizures, where people are alert and aware of what is happening, particularly in the 3 months following a crisis. less severe COVID-19 infection.


Taquet M, Devinsky O, Cross JH, Harrison PJ, Sen A. Incidence of epilepsy and seizures during the first 6 months after a diagnosis of COVID-19: a retrospective cohort study. Neurology. Published online November 16, 2022. doi:10.1212/wnl.0000000000201595

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