The research mission of the Epilepsy Division is to improve the understanding of the epidemiology of the convulsive disorders, including epilepsy, febrile seizures, and acute symptomatic seizures. Focus is on incidence, prevalence, prognosis, and risk factors (including family history) for seizures and epilepsy.
In the past year, our study of the incidence of epilepsy and unprovoked seizures in Iceland provided incidence by age, gender, etiology, seizure type, and syndrome. This study represents the most comprehensive study of epilepsy incidence published to date. We confirm the high incidence of epilepsy in the first year of life and in the elderly. We also raise questions regarding the usefulness of the International League against Epilepsy (ILAE) syndrome classification for epidemiologic studies.
In the population-based case-control study using the above incidence cases, we have published on migraine, major depression, and suicide attempt as risk factors for developing epilepsy. Among children, we reported that migraine is associated with an increased risk for epilepsy, which is due entirely to migraine with aura. One possible explanation is that migraine with aura causes epilepsy, possibly because of vascular lesions that can develop in association with migraine. Alternatively, the two disorders may share underlying risk factors.
We have found that both a history of depression and a history of suicide attempt increased the risk for developing epilepsy. Suicide attempt increased the risk for epilepsy fourfold, even after other factors were taken into account, like drinking alcohol, being depressed, age, and gender. This is a strong relationship that has not been reported before. The co-occurrence of these disorders may be explained by shared genetic susceptibility.