Some COVID-19 patients experience seizures

April 5, 2021

A new study led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) indicates that some hospitalized patients with COVID-19 experience nonconvulsive seizures, which may put them at a higher risk of dying, according to a news release from MGH.

The findings are published in the Annals of Neurology.

“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 nonconvulsive,” explains co-senior author M. Brandon Westover, MD, PhD, Investigator in the Department of Neurology at MGH and director of Data Science at the MGH McCance Center for Brain Health. “There is increasing evidence that non-convulsive seizures can damage the brain and make outcomes worse, similar to convulsions.”

Westover notes that there have been only a few small reports of seizures in patients with severe COVID-19 illness, and it was previously unclear whether such seizures primarily occur in patients who already have a seizure disorder, or whether they can arise for the first time because of COVID-19. The effects of such seizures on patients’ health was also unknown.

To provide insights, Westover and his colleagues analyzed medical information for 197 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who underwent electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring  –   tests that detect electrical activity of the brain using small metal discs attached to the scalp  – for various reasons at nine institutions in North America and Europe.

The EEG tests detected nonconvulsive seizures in 9.6% of patients, some of whom had no prior neurological problems. Patients who had seizures needed to be hospitalized for a longer time, and they were four times more likely to die while in the hospital than patients without seizures – suggesting that neurological complications may be an important contributor to the morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.

Visit Massachusetts General Hospital for more news