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The Epilepsy-Depression Connection

Overview

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes seizures. If you have epilepsy, you’re more likely to develop depression. Depression can have a negative effect on your daily life and relationships. That’s why it’s so important to get treatment for it.

According to a study published in Epilepsy and Behavior, depression is the most common mental health problem to affect people with epilepsy. Researchers conducting this study estimate that 30 to 35 percent of people with epilepsy also experience depression.

Keep reading to learn more about what causes depression in people with epilepsy and how that depression is treated.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes seizures. Seizures happen when your brain’s electrical activity becomes abnormal. Other conditions can also cause seizures, such as head injuries and alcohol withdrawal.

There are different types of seizures with various symptoms. You might violently shake, lose consciousness, and fall to the floor. Within a few minutes you’ll be awake, but feel sleepy and confused. Or you might lose awareness of your surroundings and stare for a few seconds.

If you’ve had multiple seizures, your doctor might test you for epilepsy. If you’re diagnosed with this condition, they’ll likely prescribe medication to help manage your symptoms. In some cases, they might recommend surgery or other treatments.

What is depression?

Depression is a common mood disorder. There are different kinds of depression.

Most people feel down from time to time. But with depression, the symptoms don’t usually go away without treatment. If you have depression, you may:

  • feel sad, scared, angry, or anxious
  • have trouble concentrating or paying attention
  • sleep too much or too little
  • lose interest in your usual activities
  • be more or less hungry than usual
  • have different aches and pains

Depression can interfere with your work or school and personal relationships. It can also make it hard to enjoy life. If you have symptoms of depression, make an appointment with your doctor. They can provide treatment or refer you to a mental health professional.

When does depression affect people with epilepsy?

For some people with epilepsy, symptoms of depression act as an aura. An aura is a warning sign that a seizure is coming.

You might also feel depressed for several days after a seizure. Or you may experience long-term depression. Depression can potentially affect you at any time.

What causes depression in people with epilepsy?

The possible causes of depression in people with epilepsy include:

Type of seizure

Depending on the type of seizure and the area of your brain affected, the seizure itself might affect your mood. This can lead to mood disorders, including depression.

Hormones

Your hormone levels can also affect your mood and brain function. According to researchers in the journal Functional Neurology, studies suggest that sex hormones affect your risk of developing both epilepsy and depression. These hormones may have a greater effect on women than men.

Side effects from medications

Antiseizure drugs can also affect the mood centers in your brain, raising your risk of depression. Barbiturates may be more likely to contribute to depression than other antiseizure medications. These may also affect your mood:

If you suspect your epilepsy medication is affecting your mood, talk to your doctor. The symptoms may be temporary, while your body adjusts to the medication. But your doctor may also change the dose or switch you to another drug.

Psychosocial factors

It can be hard to cope with a long-term medical condition such as epilepsy. For some people, it can lead to feeling sad, anxious, embarrassed, or even angry. These negative emotions can lead to depression.

How is depression treated in people with epilepsy?

Treating depression and epilepsy at the same time can be a challenge. Antiseizure and antidepressant medications may affect your symptoms. These medications may also affect each other. This can cause symptoms of one or both conditions to become worse. For example, most people should not take bupropion (Wellbutrin) for depression if they also have epilepsy. Bupropion may increase the frequency of seizures.

Experts in the journal Current Treatment Options in Neurology encourage doctors and patients to “start low, go slow, and use the lowest effective dose.” Your doctor might start you on the lowest possible dose of a drug and check back with you to see how it’s working. In many cases, higher dosages increase the risk of interactions and side effects.

You might need to try different medications and doses to find what works best for you. Don’t make any changes to your medications without first talking to your doctor.

Your doctor can prescribe medication based on your specific symptoms and needs. In addition to medications, they may recommend lifestyle changes, talk therapy, or other treatments.

What’s the takeaway?

If you have epilepsy, you’re at higher risk of developing depression. If you have epilepsy and think you have depression, make an appointment with your doctor. They can prescribe treatment that is best for you.

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