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Caffeine & Epilepsy

By Jae Allen

Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by a recurring pattern of seizures over time. Although as many as 5 percent of the U.S. population is likely to experience at least one seizure during a natural life span, the incidence of epilepsy among the same population is estimated at approximately 1 percent. Some individuals with epilepsy find that certain foods and drinks either alleviate or provoke seizure symptoms. For some, caffeine may affect epileptic symptoms. Consult your doctor for medical advice regarding seizure control.

Sources of Caffeine

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee, chocolate, tea, cola-type soda drinks and kola nuts. It is also an ingredient in some prescription and over-the-counter medicines. According to MedlinePlus, the caffeine in two to four cups of coffee is a reasonable daily dose for a healthy adult. Caffeine affects your metabolism, stimulating your central nervous system and giving you the sense of an energy boost. By serving, there is significantly more caffeine in coffee than in tea or in a typical soda. Chocolate contains relatively small amounts of caffeine.

Dangers of Caffeine

For some people with epilepsy, caffeine can act as a seizure trigger. If you keep a seizure diary, including caffeine intake, it may become apparent that your seizures are linked to your caffeine intake. For any person, an excess of caffeine can cause irritability, anxiety and restlessness. Caffeine can also interfere with your sleep patterns. Because managing your sleep is an important part of epilepsy management, caffeine may have an indirect negative effect on your epilepsy by interrupting your sleep.

Benefits of Caffeine

For some people with epilepsy, the energy boost provided by caffeine can be safe and beneficial. Caffeine may also play a part in weight management if you are prescribed anti-epileptic medications. An article in the November 2004 issue of the journal "Neurology" indicates that weight gain is a relatively common side effect of some anti-epileptic medications. Anti-epileptic medications are usually prescribed over a number of years, so related weight gain is quite likely. Caffeine's metabolism-boosting properties may help you keep the weight off.

Expert Insight

Although caffeine may not necessarily provoke seizures for every individual with epilepsy, it can increase the duration of epileptic seizures under certain conditions. A report in the November 1987 issue of the "American Journal of Psychiatry" indicates that caffeine administered prior to electroconvulsive therapy increased the average seizure duration experienced during ECT. In this trial, caffeine more than doubled the average seizure duration.

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