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22 February 2017

Research using Apple watch links epileptic seizures to stress and missed sleep

New research using an Apple Watch app to track seizures in people with epilepsy has found that the most common triggers are often stress and missed sleep.

Apple Epi/Watch that can be worn to record seizures

The ten-month study showed that stress was the most common trigger, linked to 37 per cent of seizures. Participants also identified lack of sleep as a trigger for 18 per cent of  seizures, menstruation for 12 per cent and over-exertion for 11 per cent. Other reported triggers included diet, missed medications and fever or infection.

Seizure triggers did not vary by the type of seizure people had. The study found that stress was more commonly reported as a trigger for participants who worked full-time, at 35 per cent, compared to those who worked part-time, 21 per cent, were unemployed, 27 per cent, or were disabled, 29 per cent.

Recording seizures

The preliminary study released today will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22 - 28, 2017. A total of 598 people signed up to track their seizures with an app called EpiWatch built using ResearchKit, a software framework designed by Apple to make it easy for researchers to gather data more frequently and more accurately.

When participants felt a seizure aura starting, they opened the app. Using the Apple Watch’s sensors, EpiWatch recorded participants’ heart rate and movements for 10 minutes. The app asked them to perform tasks to test responsiveness.

Saving lives

After the seizure ended, participants were given a brief survey about seizure type, aura, loss of awareness and possible seizure triggers. “The data collected will help researchers better understand epilepsy, while helping people with epilepsy keep a more complete history of their seizures,” said study author Gregory Krauss, MD, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The app also provides helpful tracking of seizures, prescription medication use and drug side effects — activities that are important in helping people manage their condition.”

Focal seizures only

Epilepsy Society's medical director Professor Ley Sander commented: "It is interesting to see results coming through from wearable technology that is simple and easy to use. This is certainly the way forward in terms of data collection and hopefully in the future it may help us to predict seizures and give people better control over their lives.

"However, at the moment the technology is only able to gather data from people who have an aura before their seizure and have time to open up the app on the watch. So the research will only be relevant to those with focal seizures."

In all, 40 percent of the group tracked a total of 1,485 seizures, with 177 participants reporting what triggered their seizures. “Seizures are very unpredictable,” said Krauss. “Our eventual goal is to be able to use wearable technology to predict an oncoming seizure. This could potentially save lives as well as give people with epilepsy more freedom. The data collected in this study helps us take a step in that direction.” The study was supported by Johns Hopkins University. 

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