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  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted April 1, 2021

Some Hospitalized COVID Patients Develop Seizures

COVID-19 can harm multiple organs in the body, including the brain. Now, a new study says some hospitalized COVID-19 patients have non-convulsive seizures that may increase their risk of death.

"Seizures are a very common complication of severe critical illness. Most of these seizures are not obvious: Unlike seizures that make a person fall down and shake, or convulse, seizures in critically ill patients are usually non-convulsive," said study co-author Dr. M. Brandon Westover, an associate professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

"There is increasing evidence that non-convulsive seizures can damage the brain and make outcomes worse, similar to convulsions," Westover said in a hospital news release.

There haven't been many reports of seizures in patients with severe COVID-19. Westover and his colleagues wanted to know whether they occur mainly in patients with preexisting seizure disorders or if they can be triggered for the first time by the virus and how such seizures affect COVID-19 patients.

To find answers, they analyzed data from nearly 200 COVID patients hospitalized at nine institutions in North America and Europe who underwent electroencephalogram (EEG) tests to assess electrical activity in their brain.

The tests detected non-convulsive seizures in about 10% of the patients, some of whom had no prior neurological problems. Compared to those without seizures, patients who had seizures were hospitalized longer and were four times more likely to die while in the hospital.

While only an association was found and not a cause-and-effect link, the findings suggest that neurological complications may be an important contributor to COVID-associated illness and death, according to the study authors. The results were published recently in the journal Annals of Neurology.

Study co-author and neurologist Dr. Mouhsin Shafi, medical director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's EEG Laboratory in Boston, said the findings suggest that COVID patients should be monitored closely for non-convulsive seizures.

"Treatments are available and warranted in patients at high risk; however, further research is needed to clarify how aggressively to treat seizures in COVID-19," Shafi said in the release. He is an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more on how COVID-19 affects the brain.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, March 30, 2021

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