By the time I went through various tests that led to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 14 years ago, epilepsy had already been part of my life since the age of 19. No-one mentioned any link.
The neurologist’s words still ring in my ears. Having already told me that MS was the diagnosis, he said: “I want you to go to Walton and have a couple more tests. It’s possible that your seizures were not epilepsy at all but were due to MS instead.”
He explained that he looked through my medical history and then said I actually had MS since my early to mid-20s. I was now 49. After the extra checks, we met again. This time his words were no more comforting. “You do have two things wrong with your brain; you have both MS and Epilepsy.” He never thought of a link between them.
Because my brother also had epilepsy but not MS, I never really thought that they could be related. However, they are two of the most common neurological conditions, and now researchers have found that having one may lead to higher risk for the other.
Researchers in the U.K., where I was born and lived until last year, used the entire population of England to create the largest study on this topic to date.
It is apparent that MS and epilepsy occur together more commonly than by chance. One possible explanation is that an MS lesion acts as a focus of an epileptic seizure; but other possibilities are discussed.
The researchers found that patients with MS have a significantly greater risk of developing epilepsy, and so, it is important for clinicians to be aware of the risk of epilepsy in people with MS.
Additionally, the study indicated that patients who exhibited epileptic symptoms first, like me, had a greater chance of being diagnosed with MS within 10 years.
Ok, it took 25 years for me to be given confirmation of having MS but, like many people, I had various hospital visits over the years without ever learning what was wrong. The eventual diagnosis was actually a relief; at last the illness had a name.
This study was conceived and led by Alexander N. Allen of the University of Oxford, Brasenose College, Radcliffe Square, Oxford, U.K.
The researchers analyzed two sets of data consisting of hospital admission records from the Oxford Record Linkage Study (ORLS), collected between 1963 and 1998, along with data covering all of England from 1999 through 2011.
Epilepsy and MS are fairly common conditions and would have a reasonable chance of occurring in the same person. This study was conceived to see if the two occurred more often together than expected by chance.
The research team looked for occurrences of hospital admissions for epilepsy in people after a previous admission for multiple sclerosis. This data was compared with a control group of more than 85,000 MS patients.
The researchers found a strong link between MS hospital admissions and admission for epilepsy within 10 years. The risk increased by 4.7 times in the ORLS group and 3.9 times in the all-England group.
This study also looked at admissions for epilepsy followed by admission for MS and found a 2.5 times greater risk in the ORLS group and 1.9 times greater risk in the all-England group. These researchers concluded that MS and epilepsy may occur together more often possibly because the lesions associated with MS act as a focus of an epileptic seizure.
Conclusions from the study suggested that doctors should be aware of the connection between MS and epilepsy. The findings may also help researchers come up with additional theories related to the two diseases.
* This study was supported by the English National Institute for Health Research and was published on December 4, 2013 in BMC Neurology.
This article, by Ian Franks, first appeared in MS News Today.