Still having seizures while on medication?

Epilepsy and Seizures Disorders
Autoimmune factors may play a bigger role in seizure disorders than previously suspected. In fact, a growing number of autoantibodies are being linked with idiopathic seizures.

Why am I still having seizures while on medication?

Treatment for seizures typically consists of anti-convulsants or anti-epileptic medications. Unfortunately, at least 1 in 3 patients complain they are still having seizures while on medication. 1 In these cases, the patient is considered to have drug-resistant seizures or drug-resistant epilepsy, also known as refractory epilepsy.

The cause of epilepsy and seizures is often unknown. A number of factors may be involved including genetics, brain structure abnormalities, brain injury or tumor, toxins, metabolic imbalances, infectious diseases, or immune system abnormalities.

Autoimmunity and inflammation are also known to play an important role in the onset of seizures. In fact, people with autoimmune disorders are at a greater risk of developing seizures.

Sudden onset of seizures are a common symptom in autoimmune disorders 2, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes mellitus, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). 3

Autoimmune dysfunction can trigger seizures

The latest research indicates that autoimmune encephalitis (brain inflammation) syndromes, associated with specific antineuronal antibodies, can cause seizures, as well.

In a subset of patients, “the binding of the autoantibodies to extracellular antigens directly causes neuronal dysfunction.” 4 This disruption in neuronal functioning can trigger the sudden onset of seizures.

“Autoimmunity is increasingly being recognized as a cause of epilepsy,” 5 particularly in people who are still having seizures while on anti-convulsant medication.

Antibodies mistakenly attack various receptors in the brain

Autoimmune encephalitis, which refers to a broad category of syndromes involves a misguided attack of autoantibodies against specific receptors in the brain. In response to an infection or environmental stressor, the immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack (either bind to or block) various receptors in the brain. This can disrupt neuronal cell signaling and cause inflammation in the brain, potentially triggering the onset of neurologic (seizures) and/or psychiatric symptoms.

If a person is still having seizures while on standard medication, check with your doctor because there could be an underlying autoimmune dysfunction and inflammation that may need to be treated.

  Up to 35% of patients with treatment-resistant seizures had antibodies, suggesting an autoimmune etiology 9

Could a sudden onset of seizures be due to an immune dysfunction?

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Are you struggling with treatment-resistant seizures? It may be due to an autoimmune response.

Why am I still having seizures while on medication?

Importance of diagnosing autoimmune seizures

If you’re still having seizures while on standard medication, identifying whether there is an autoimmune basis is important, since treatment typically involves immunomodulating therapy. And if identified and treated, autoimmune seizures can often be completely resolved or substantial reduced.

  Autoimmunity is increasingly being recognized as a cause of epilepsy.” 5

One study reports, 81% of patients who received immunotherapy had “significant improvement in seizure status” and 67% achieved “seizure freedom, a majority of whom were antiepileptic drug [AED] resistant.” 6

“The identification of an immune basis in AE [autoimmune epilepsy] is very important because early diagnosis and immunotherapy may actually limit the duration or severity of the illness and could improve the outcome of epilepsy recovery.” 6

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a person’s medical and family history can provide clues as to whether they may suffer from autoimmune-induced seizures. These clues include: seizures that start in adulthood, seizures that have no known cause, a personal or family history of autoimmune disorders, new onset of seizures that do not respond to anti-epileptic medications. 8

  1. Dubey D, Alqallaf A, Hays R, et al. Neurological Autoantibody Prevalence in Epilepsy of Unknown Etiology. JAMA Neurol. 2017;74(4):397–402. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.5429
  2. Quek AM, Britton JW, McKeon A, et al. Autoimmune epilepsy: clinical characteristics and response to immunotherapy. Arch Neurol. 2012;69(5):582–593. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.2985
  3. Vincent A., Crino P. Systemic and neurologic autoimmune disorders associated with seizures or epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2011; 52(3): 12-17.
  4. Damato V. Diagnostic algorithms in autoimmune encephalitis. Neuroimmunology and  Neuroinflammation 2016;3:93-97. 10.20517/2347-8659.2015.43
  5. Bauer J, Becker AJ, Elyaman W, et al. Innate and adaptive immunity in human epilepsies. Epilepsia. 2017;58 Suppl 3(Suppl Suppl 3):57–68. doi:10.1111/epi.13784
  6. Fang Z, Yang Y, Chen X, et al. Advances in Autoimmune Epilepsy Associated with Antibodies, Their Potential Pathogenic Molecular Mechanisms, and Current Recommended Immunotherapies. Front Immunol. 2017;8:395. Published 2017 Apr 25. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00395
  7. MedPage Today. Nyberg K. Identification and Treatment of Autoimmune Epilepsy.
  8. Epilepsy Foundation website.
  9. Dubey D, Samudra N, Gupta P, Agostini M, Ding K, Van Ness PC, Vernino S, Hays R. Retrospective case series of the clinical features, management and outcomes of patients with autoimmune epilepsy. Seizure. 2015 Jul;29:143-7. doi: 10.1016/j.seizure.2015.04.007. Epub 2015 Apr 30. PMID: 26076858.