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Study: High Blood Pressure Linked to Epileptic Seizures

January 05, 2022

The list of reasons you should keep your blood pressure under control now includes possibly preventing epileptic seizures.

Boston University School of Medicine researchers, in an article published in the journal Epilepsia, revealed a link between hypertension, or high blood pressure, and epilepsy, the third-most common neurological condition affecting older people. High blood pressure, defined in the study as blood pressure above 140/90, is associated with 2.5 times the risk of epilepsy, although medications that control blood pressure can reduce the risk.

“The connection is more an association than a causation, although it’s another important reason to monitor and control blood pressure,” said Dr. Gabe Martz, medical director of the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute Epilepsy Center. “It’s more of an indirect connection, but it is there nonetheless.”

Dr. Martz said that although people can develop epilepsy at any age, the incidence of the disorder does increase after age 60. This, he said, coincides with a higher risk of cardiovascular conditions like stroke and aneurysms, which can be exacerbated by hypertension. The average age for a diagnosis of epilepsy in the Boston University study was 73.8.

“About 10 percent of people who have a stroke will go on to have epilepsy because stroke can cause scarring in the brain. The way this brain attack heals can actually result in epilepsy,” Dr. Martz said. “This can happen with any brain injury.”

The Boston University research team highlighted statistics showing increases in epilepsy cases over the past few decades, predicting numbers will continue to rise with higher populations of elderly.

The cause of epilepsy is unknown almost half the time, although this recent research underscores the vascular connection in late-onset disease, Dr. Martz suggested. Vascular risk factors may have roots as early as a person’s 30s.

Possible causes, the researchers theorized, could be activity in the body’s renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which regulates blood pressure and is elevated after seizures. Medication to control blood pressure lowers levels of RAS components, which delays seizure onset and reduces their frequency.

High blood pressure, over time, also can trigger small vessel disease (SVD), which prevents the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to the body’s organs and may be linked to a specific type of epilepsy.

“This is an area that will require more research and attention to be more specific about the association between hypertension and epilepsy,” Dr. Martz said. “In the meantime, controlling one’s blood pressure is an important factor in good health throughout the lifespan.”