Stress is often blamed for a wide range of health issues many of us experience, such as back pains, insomnia, worsening skin conditions like eczema and acne, heart disease, digestive problems, and memory impairment. For some epilepsy patients, stress may be all it takes to cause a seizure, according to researchers from the University of Cincinnati.
“One of the things we often hear is that a lot of epilepsy patients feel their seizures are affected by stress . . . but no one had really looked at their [brain response] or other elements of their physiological response,” said study author Jane Allendorfer, an instructor of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She was working at the University of Cincinnati at the time the study was conducted, the HealthDay reports.
The study involved two groups of epilepsy patients — one group consists of 16 patients who considered stress as a factor in their seizure control and the other group consists of 7 patients who did not associate their seizure with stress. All participants were initially given simple subtraction problems to solve and then a “stress task” during which they performed difficult subtraction. Participants were also given positive feedback during the easier portion and negative feedback during the difficult section regardless of how well they were actually performing.
Through MRI brain scans, the researchers observed greater brain activation on those who perceived stress to have an impact on their epilepsy, while no such brain activation was noted on the other group.
Dr. Steven Pacia, director of the Epilepsy Center and the division of neurology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study, said the researchers’ finding reflect what he hears from patients.
“Everyone who treats a lot of seizure patients knows that a good proportion blame stress for any breakthrough seizures they’re having — even when they’re taking their medications, even when they’re not sleep-deprived,” Dr. Pacia added. “This study is the first to truly show there might be some activation issue in the brain that’s different in patients who report this problem. I think we all know that telling patients to reduce their stress to reduce seizures is a good thing to do.”