People with epilepsy who live in high-crime neighbourhoods experience more seizures

A recent study from the University of Illinois has found that people with epilepsy living in areas with high crime rates in Chicago have triple the amount of seizures compared to those living in areas with lower crime rates.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain and it affects more than 65 million people worldwide and almost 40,000 people in Ireland. Close to one third of people living with epilepsy have difficulty controlling their seizures even with the help of medication. Seizures may interfere with a person’s work, relationships and independence.

Earlier research has indicated that people living in neighbourhoods with high rates of crime have significantly higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.  Stress has also been known to trigger seizures amongst people with epilepsy.

The UIC study examined 63 adult participants that were living with epilepsy.  The participants were also living within the city limits of Chicago. The researchers determined the levels of crime in the participant’s neighbourhoods by cross examining the zip codes of each participant’s neighbourhood with local crime rates available through the City of Chicago Police data portal.

The data regarding the amount of seizures each participant had was collected by the participants self-reporting their seizures.

Jessica Levy, a research coordinator within the UIC department of neurology and rehabilitation who presented the findings of the study stated; "On average, people in high-crime neighbourhoods had three seizures versus one for people living in low-crime neighbourhoods when we looked back over the last 30 days. Over the course of 90 days, people in high-crime neighbourhoods had seven seizures on average compared to three for those living in low-crime neighbourhoods, so the link between crime and seizure activity is significant."

The researchers found no overall association between neighbourhood crime status and the duration of epilepsy or between crime status and poverty.

Seizures can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life. Following a seizure people can become extremely fatigued, seizures that result in falls can causes bruising or even broken bones. There can also be some levels of stigma still associated with having seizures in public places.

Dr. Dilip Pandey, an investigator on this study and associate professor of neurology and rehabilitation at UIC said; "Understanding the impact of violence and crime as potential triggers for seizures underscores the need for further research that might allow clinicians to make better-informed recommendations for self-management education and stress management skills".