Serotonin May Provide a Clue to SUDEP

New research published by the American Academy of Neurology in the latest issue of the Neurology Journal has linked the brain chemical serotonin with a lower risk of seizure-related breathing problems.

The research was led by Dr. Samden Lhatoo of the University of Texas.

The study found that higher levels of serotonin in the blood after a seizure indicates a lower risk of breathing problems. Serotonin is a hormone that transmits signals between nerve cells in the brain. It is known to control breathing and waking from sleep.

The study involved 49 people with difficult-to-treat epilepsy. 35% of participants had breathing problems during their seizures while 30% had breathing problems after their seizures. Electrical activity in the brain and the heart, oxygen levels in the blood, as well as changes in blood flow were all examined in an epilepsy monitoring unit during the study.

Commenting on the study, Dr Lhatoo said, “Our findings show that higher levels of serotonin after a seizure are associated with less breathing dysfunction, and while we cannot make any links between serotonin levels and a risk of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP), our research may provide some important clues, since SUDEP has been linked in previous research to profound breathing dysfunction after generalized convulsive seizures."

Dr. Lhatoo noted that further research is now required: “This may give hope that perhaps someday new therapies could be developed that may help prevent SUDEP. However, our study was small and much more research is needed to confirm our findings in larger groups before any treatment decisions can be made. It is also important to note that excess serotonin can be harmful, so we strongly recommend against anyone trying to find ways to increase their serotonin levels in response to our study findings."

Further information on the study can be found here.

Further information regarding SUDEP can be found here. While the devastation caused by SUDEP cannot be measured, we would like to remind everyone the risk of SUDEP is low. Risk varies from person to person however the better epilepsy is controlled, the lower the risk of SUDEP.

Should you have any concerns or questions, please contact your medical team, your local Community Resource Officer or Epilepsy Ireland Head Office on 01 4557500.