- How does epilepsy affect the brain and nervous system?
- How else does epilepsy affect the body?
- Epilepsy causes, types and triggers
- What are the signs and symptoms of epilepsy?
- Risk factors for epilepsy and potential complications
- Diagnosing epilepsy
- Treatment procedures for epilepsy
- Living with epilepsy
- Epilepsy FAQs
How does epilepsy affect the body?
Besides causing seizures, epilepsy may also affect other areas of the body, these include the:
- Circulatory and respiratory system: The after effects of a seizure can impact a person’s heart rhythm and breathing function. Shortness of breath and coughing are common complaints for epilepsy suffers. Sometimes, choking may occur (although this is rare). A sufferer is more prone to developing other complications as a result of the condition, these may include heart disease and stroke4, in the long-term. The ultimate complication risk as it relates to the circulatory and respiratory systems is SUDEP (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy).
- Muscular and digestive system: Mixed and disrupted signals from the brain during a seizure contract and relax the muscles in the body in an uncontrollable manner. This results in a breakdown of muscle tone and often causes a sufferer to fall without warning. Some sufferers may cry or scream just before a seizure. This is because the muscles surrounding the vocal cords seize up and unexpectedly force air out. The force can sound much like an intentional cry or scream. Digestive issues are common side-effects of antiepileptic drugs5. Many experience acid reflux (heartburn), constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, as well as abdominal pain. Many suffering a seizure also lose control of their bladder and bowel.
- Reproductive system: Epilepsy, by default, can have an effect on a woman’s pregnancy. A pregnant woman is at higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) or delivering an underweight baby6. Worse-case scenario is that she may experience a stillbirth. That said, if a woman’s epilepsy is carefully monitored and treated during pregnancy, she can have both a healthy pregnancy and give birth to healthy baby too.
4. Shmuely S, van der Lende M, Lamberts R, Sander J, Thijs R. The heart of epilepsy: Current views and future concepts. Seizure. 2017;44:176-183. doi:10.1016/j.seizure.2016.10.001
5. Jahromi S, Togha M, Fesharaki S et al. Gastrointestinal adverse effects of antiepileptic drugs in intractable epileptic patients. Seizure. 2011;20(4):343-346. doi:10.1016/j.seizure.2010.12.011
6. Borgelt L, Hart F, Bainbridge J. Epilepsy during pregnancy: focus on management strategies. Int J Womens Health. 2016;Volume 8:505-517. doi:10.2147/ijwh.s98973