Epilepsy in People with Lupus

October 17, 2019

A new study published in the European Journal of Neurology showed that epilepsy is significantly more common among people with systemic erythematosus lupus (SLE) than the general population. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by unpredictable seizures. A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that an affect how a person appears or acts for a short time.

In this study, researchers sent a questionnaire that screened for epilepsy to a group of 440 people with SLE who had been hospitalized over a time period of 1998 to 2012. Out of this group, 85% responded to the questionnaire. Based on this screening, epilepsy was then confirmed in 11.5% of those who responded. The majority of these (83%) had a focal onset seizure, meaning that the seizure begins on one side of the brain and the person has no loss of awareness of their surroundings. Another 3.2% had isolated or provoked seizures, which refers to seizures that occur once and are caused by other factors.

Neuropsychiatric lupus (NPSLE) occurred in half of the group.  NPSLE symptoms can range from trouble thinking or remembering to strokes or psychosis.

Among those with NPSLE who also experienced seizures, the rate of psychosis and cerebrovascular disease was two to three times higher than among those with no seizures.  Cerebrovascular disease refers to any disorder in which an area of the brain is affected by bleeding or inadequate blood supply and when the blood vessels in the brain are involved.  Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) was also more common among those people who had epilepsy. APS is an autoimmune disease in which the body makes abnormal proteins in the blood called antiphospholipid autoantibodies that can cause blood clotting.

This study illustrates the tremendous need for more research into NPSLE.  Recognizing that need, the LRA funds research in this area and has partnered with the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) on an important program to recover brain tissue from individuals with lupus at the time of their death for donation to lupus research.

Learn more about the Lupus Brain Bank and the Gift You Can Leave for Generations to Come.