Epilepsy and Depression May Share Genetic Link

Epilepsy and Depression May Share Genetic Link

Members of the scientific community have debated for years about the existence of a link between depression and epilepsy. In fact, suspicions of this connection go all the way back to the time of Hippocrates. Recently, scientists at Columbia University and Rutgers University-New Brunswick discovered clear evidence of a possible link between these two conditions. This information may be used to improve the quality of life and treatment options for people who suffer from both epilepsy and mood disorders like depression.

About Epilepsy and Depression

Epilepsy affects approximately 2.3 million adults in the United States, as well as more than 450,000 children and adolescents. Epilepsy can affect anyone, and it can develop at any age. In most cases, seizures in people with epilepsy are controlled with medications and/or surgery. However, people with epilepsy often deal with “break-through” seizures even when they are being treated for this condition. This disorder can range in severity considerably, with some patients having only occasional seizures and others experiencing pervasive disability.

Depression is another common condition that affects more than 16 million adults in the United States each year, according to recent estimates from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Depression increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts among all people, but the effects can be especially impactful among people with other serious disorders like epilepsy. When epilepsy and depression occur together, they decrease the patient’s quality of life, increase healthcare costs and worsen the individual’s level of disability. Furthermore, past research studies have shown that patients who suffer from both mood disorders and epilepsy have more severe seizure outcomes than those who don’t have mood disorders. For this reason, the connection between mood disorders and epilepsy warrants further investigation.

About the Study

The research study in question was published online in the journal Epilepsia. It covered several families that included multiple relatives with epilepsy. The scientists compared the overall prevalence of mood disorders within these families to the incidence in the United States population as a whole. This comparison showed a greater incidence of mood disorders, including depression, among people who suffered from focal epilepsy, which is a specific subtype of epilepsy that affects a specific part of the brain. The incidence of mood disorders was not increased among people with generalized epilepsy. The study also showed that people who had a relative with focal epilepsy were more likely to develop a mood disorder than those who did not have a relative with focal epilepsy.

In light of these findings, the researchers concluded that people who suffer from focal epilepsy or have a relative who has this condition may be at a higher risk of developing depression and other mood disorders than members of the general population. Researchers suspect that the presence of specific genes may raise the risk of developing both of these conditions.

Implications for the Medical Community

According to Gary A. Heiman, the senior author of the study, mood disorders are underdiagnosed and undertreated among people who have all types of epilepsy. Now that a link between focal epilepsy and mood disorders has been uncovered, doctors will be more likely to screen for mood disorders among patients with this condition. Better screening protocols will lead to faster diagnosis and better treatment for patients with concurrent epilepsy and depression. Doctors may also use the information from this study to develop screening protocols for relatives of people who have focal epilepsy.

In addition, being aware of a possible link between mood disorders and epilepsy may help the medical community to gain a better understanding of how each of these conditions develops, as well as how the two conditions interact, so that treatment options can be improved over time.

This study will impact different sectors of the medical community in different ways. For example, for social workers working with families impacted by epilepsy, this study draws attention to the need for vigilance and screening with regard to mood disorders. Social workers should watch for signs of depression in the individual with epilepsy, as well as among family members. For medical professionals who work in research, the results of this study provide insights that can be used to focus future studies, improve treatments and enhance screening protocols.

Understanding the Link

The recent study did not explore the nature of the link between epilepsy and mood disorders. Although scientists have already discovered several genes that are linked to epilepsy, more research will be required to identify the specific genes that increase the risk for both of these conditions to occur together. Understanding the link between these two different conditions may help scientists to develop better treatments for both disorders.

Identifying the specific genes that contribute to the development of concurrent epilepsy and depression will likely require much more investigation. However, the information provided by this most recent study can serve as a starting point for scientists who want to explore this issue in more detail.


Phillip specializes in medical and health-related topics such as disease, nutrition, fitness, pharmacology and wellness. Because of his educational background, he is knowledgeable in the areas of science and mathematics as well. Phillip has a Ph.D. with a focus in microbiology and immunology. He is currently working toward his Doctor of Medicine and has already completed two years of medical school.

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