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Does Caffeine Cause Seizures?

By Nicolle Napier Ionascu

Seizures, whether associated with epilepsy or due to external factors, refer to shifts in the brain's neuronal stimulation, which causes increased electrographic activity. This increased activity makes up seizures. According to the Epilepsy Foundation of North America, approximately 2.2 percent of the population will have a single seizure at some point in life. Given this frequency, it is important to understand how external factors, such as caffeine ingestion, impact seizure risk.

Lifestyle, Caffeine and Seizure Activity

Given that seizure activity does not necessarily equate with epileptic etiology, researchers are interested in what puts an individual at risk for seizures. A study conducted by doctors at Harvard Medical School in 2010 looked at lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and caffeine ingestion in the role of seizure risk. They asked women ages 25 to 42 years old about their habits in these areas and then reviewed medical records to assess for associations with seizure risk. They found that while alcohol and caffeine did not correlate with epilepsy or seizure activity, smoking did increase the risk. The researchers end the study by saying that more studies should be conducted to examine the role of external factors in the development of seizures and epilepsy.

Animal Models

Animal models are often useful in examining the impact of external factors on various conditions. Researchers in Brazil conducted such a study using rats to better understand the consequences of caffeine ingestion in seizure activity. Going into the study, the group of scientists believed that caffeine consumption, or being in state of caffeine withdrawal, would alter some of the hormones associated with seizure onset and, therefore, change seizure susceptibility. Despite this belief, they found that there was no significant difference in seizure profile-based caffeine ingestion or its withdrawal.

Caffeine and Anticonvulsant Medication

For individuals diagnosed with epilepsy, many take medication prescribed by their doctor to help manage seizure activity. These drugs are called anti-convulsants, and there are many variations. Researchers have been interested in what external substances affect these medications in terms of efficiency in keeping seizures away. Scientists in Poland used mice to examine the effect of acute administration of caffeine sodium benzoate (CAF) on the anti-convulsant action of four widely used anti-epileptic drugs: clonazepam, ethosuximide, phenobarbital and valproate. They found the medications responded to caffeine in different ways, and it seemed to diminish the anti-seizure protection in ethosuximide only. They warn, based on this data, that patients treated with this medication should avoid caffeine.

Caffeine in Epilepsy

The research appears to be mixed as to whether or not lifestyle choices such as caffeine ingestion impact the development of seizures. Seizure disorders are complex and should be treated and monitored by a neurologist or epileptologist. Whether or not caffeine ingestion can cause seizures remains unknown, but data does suggest that caffeine at the very least can impact some anti-convulsant medications. Individuals taking such medications, or who are at risk for seizures, should discuss healthy lifestyle choices with their doctor.

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