Can Covid-19 exacerbate seizures in patients with epilepsy?

There have been several reports of seizure exacerbation in epileptic patients after Covid-19 infection. Seizure exacerbations have been observed in epileptic patients with uncontrolled epilepsy, as well as patients who were previously controlled with antiepileptic drugs (AEDs).1,2

In a survey of 362 epileptic patients in Wuhan, China, the site of the initial outbreak, 31 (8.6%) patients reported an increased number of seizures in the month after the public lockdown began; 16 (51.6%) of the 31 patients with seizure exacerbation had prior exposure to Covid-19.1

In a study of 439 patients with Covid-19 infection in Egypt, 19 (4.3%) patients presented with acute seizures.2  Two of the 19 seizure patients had a previous diagnosis of epilepsy, which had been controlled for up to 2 years. Interestingly, the other 17 patients had new onset seizures without a previous epilepsy diagnosis.

Covid-19 has been proposed to induce seizures by eliciting inflammatory cytokines in the central nervous system, leading to neuronal necrosis and increased glutamate levels in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus.3

Covid-19 infection may have also indirectly caused seizure exacerbations in a number of epileptic patients. Interestingly, stress related to worrying about the effect of the outbreak on a patient’s seizure activity was associated with seizure exacerbations (odds ratio: 2.5, 95% CI: 1.1-6.1)2. It is also possible that some seizure exacerbations may have been due to fear of visiting the hospital and AED withdrawal, as was demonstrated during the 2003 SARS outbreak.4

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that Guillain–Barré Syndrome has also been observed in patients with Covid-19 infection?5

Contributed by Luke Vest, Medical Student, St. Louis University Medical School

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  1. Huang, S., Wu, C., Jia, Y., et al. (2020). COVID-19 outbreak: The impact of stress on seizures in patients with epilepsy. Epilepsia, 61(9), 1884-1893.  
  2. Khedr, E. M., Shoyb, A., Mohammaden, M., & Saber, M. (2021). Acute symptomatic seizures and COVID-19: Hospital-based study. Epilepsy Res, 174, 106650.
  1. Nikbakht, F., Mohammadkhanizadeh, A., & Mohammadi, E. (2020). How does the COVID-19 cause seizure and epilepsy in patients? The potential mechanisms. Multiple sclerosis and related disorders, 46, 102535.
  2. Lai, S. L., Hsu, M. T., & Chen, S. S. (2005). The impact of SARS on epilepsy: the experience of drug withdrawal in epileptic patients. Seizure, 14(8), 557–561.
  3.  Abu-Rumeileh, S., Abdelhak, A., Foschi, M., Tumani, H., & Otto, M. (2021). Guillain-Barré syndrome spectrum associated with COVID-19: an up-to-date systematic review of 73 cases. Journal of neurology, 268(4), 1133–1170.   

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers, Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School or its affiliated institutions, or St. Louis University Medical School. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Can Covid-19 exacerbate seizures in patients with epilepsy?

Can a seizure cause abnormalities on the brain MRI?

Yes it can, and the MRI abnormalities could represent seizure’s effects on the brain, not the seizure’s structural cause. Seizure-related MRI changes are often associated with status epilepticus, but have also been reported in complex partial status epilepticus.1,2

T2-weighted MRI images may show increased signal intensity at the cortical gray matter, subcortical white matter, or hippocampus. The MRI changes are unilateral about one-half of the cases, while in about 8% of patients leptomeningeal contrast-enhancement may be observed. Partial simple and complex seizures are associated with hippocampal involvement.3

The increased signal intensity following seizures is thought to be due to increased metabolism at the epileptogenic area, which in turn results in increased oxygen consumption, hypoxia, hypercarbia, lactic acidosis, and ultimately vasodilation and edema.

Reversibility of MRI changes following seizures has been noted between 15 and 150 days (average, 62 days). A structural abnormality is more likely the cause of a seizure when the MRI changes do not resolve during this period.3 Therefore, seizure-induced brain-MRI abnormalities remain a diagnosis of exclusion.


  1. Kim JA, Chung JI, Yoon PH, et al. Transient MR signal changes in patients with generalized tonicoclonic seizure or status epilepticus: periictal diffusion-weighted imaging. Am J Neuroradiol 2001; 22:1149–1160
  2. Henry TR, Brunberg DI, Pennell PB, et al. Focal cerebral magnetic resonance changes associated with partial status epilepticus. Epilepsia 1994; 35:35–41
  3. Cianfoni A, Caulo M, Cerase A, et al. Seizure-induced brain lesions: a wide spectrum of variably reversible MRI abnormalities. Eur J Radiol. 2013; 82(11):1964-72.


Contributed by Johan H.L. Boneschansker, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Can a seizure cause abnormalities on the brain MRI?