helpline 01494 601 400
08 July 2016

Increased risk for autism in epilepsy

Links between epilepsy and autism have once again been highlighted in a new Swedish study - the largest so far to look at the relationship between the two conditions.


The study showed that people with epilepsy, and particularly those diagnosed in childhood, have an increased risk for autism, as do their siblings and children.

A previous Swedish study, earlier this year, highlighted epilepsy as one of the two leading causes of premature mortality in epilepsy.

Genetic factors

Authors of the more recent nationwide population-based study say that their findings suggest both conditions may have a shared etiology, or cause, and that genetic factors could contribute to the core mechanisms behind both epilepsy and autism spectrum disorder.

The findings could also have wider implications for the healthcare of people with epilepsy, underlining a need for screening for autism spectrum disorder in those with epilepsy.

Study results

The study looked at 85,201 people with epilepsy as well as their siblings (80,511) and children (98,534). Each person was compared with five  controls who did not have epilepsy, while their siblings and children were compared with siblings and children of the controls.

The groups were followed for an average of six years, during which time, 1,381 (1.6 per cent) of individuals with epilepsy and 700 (0.2 per cent) of controls were diagnosed with autism. Those with epilepsy had a 10-fold risk of developing autism. Of those diagnosed with epilepsy in childhood, 5.2 per cent developed autism. More women with epilepsy developed autism than men.

The study also showed that siblings and offspring had a greater than 60 per cent chance of developing autism. The risk in offspring was higher for those whose mothers had epilepsy (a 91 per cent increased risk) in comparison with a 38 per cent increased risk in those whose fathers had epilepsy.

Epilepsy Society comments

Commenting on the study, director of genomics at Epilepsy Society, Professor Sanjay Sisodiya said: 'The relationship between epilepsy and autism is poorly understood. We know that about 30 per cent of people with a mild to moderate learning disability also have epilepsy and that this risk increases, the more severe the learning disability. Similarly, around 20 per cent of those with epilepsy also have a learning disability.

'There is much hope that the power of genetics will give us greater insight into how diseases start and develop, and the complex relationship between different diseases. This is very much the case with epilepsy and autism.

'The study shows the need for new screening techniques that will lead to a better understanding of the relationship between different conditions and the need to adopt a holistic approach to healthcare. Wherever possible, different diseases should not be treated in isolation but as part of an integrated care plan.'


Read more



Share this article: