Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures. While many people with epilepsy are born with the condition, some develop it after sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can cause significant disruptions in neurological function. Extensive research has established the link between epilepsy and a single TBI, but few studies have examined the effect of repeated TBI on epilepsy risk. Research in this area is especially important for individuals who are vulnerable to repeated TBI, such as contact sports athletes and military service members.
Danish Researchers Study Link Between Epilepsy & TBI
To address this knowledge gap, a research team conducted a nationwide study of nearly 2.5 million people born in Denmark between 1977 and 2016. Of these individuals, 167,051 sustained TBI, and 37,200 developed epilepsy. The researchers confirmed previous findings that a single TBI increases a person’s risk for developing epilepsy. Next, they identified patients who had sustained more than one TBI over the course of their lifetime, determining that:
- The relative risk of epilepsy rose even further after a second TBI.
- As TBI severity increased, so did risk of developing epilepsy. This held true for both the first and the second injury.
- Men were more likely than women to develop epilepsy after severe TBI, while women were more likely than men to develop epilepsy after mild TBI (or concussion).
- Elevated risk for epilepsy was sustained for decades after TBI, even when the injury was mild.
Because repeated TBI is a significant risk factor for the development of epilepsy in the months and years following injury, clinicians are encouraged to consider full life history when developing a patient’s long-term treatment plan, especially for patients at high risk for repeated TBI. Additionally, given that an estimated 70 million people per year experience concussion, clinicians should be aware that women are at particularly high risk for epilepsy following these mild injuries. These groups represent important targets for epilepsy prevention efforts.
Works Cited: Lolk K, Dreier JW, & Christensen J. Repeated traumatic brain injury and risk of epilepsy: A nationwide cohort study. Brain. (2021).
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