Jan 21 The number of seizure patients in a
northern Japanese fishing community devastated by the March 11,
2011 tsunami spiked in the weeks following the disaster,
according to a Japanese study.
The study, published in the journal Epilepsia, looked at 440
patient records from Kesennuma City Hospital, in a city that was
devastated by the massive tsunami touched off by the 9.0
Thirteen patients were admitted with seizures in the eight
weeks after the disaster, but only one had been admitted in the
two months before March 11.
Previous research has linked stressful life-threatening
disasters with an increased risk of seizures, but most case
reports lacked clinical data with multiple patients.
"We suggest that stress associated with life-threatening
situations may enhance seizure generation," wrote lead author
Ichiyo Shibahara, a staff neurosurgeon at Sendai Medical Center
in northern Japan.
But he added that stress itself is not a universal risk
factor for seizures.
"Most of the seizure patients had some sort of neurological
disease before the earthquake," he said.
His team examined medical records from patients admitted to
the neurosurgery ward in the eight weeks before and after the
March 11 disaster and compared them to the same time period each
year between 2008 and 2010.
In 2008, there were 11 seizure patients admitted between
January 14 and May 15. In 2009, there were seven and in 2010,
Of the 13 admitted after the disaster, 11 had preexisting
brain disorders that included epilepsy, head injuries or stroke.
All the patients lived independently, and eight took
Shibahara noted that of the five patients admitted just days
after the tsunami, it was "not because of a lack of
anticonvulsants, but because of the stress."
One later patient, though, was unable to refill his
medication weeks after the devastation.
"This is interesting, but I'm not 100 percent convinced,"
said William Theodore, senior investigator of the clinical
epilepsy section at the National Institute for Neurological
Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.
Theodore, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters
health that because the number of patients was so small, random
variation could explain the surge in seizures. Upset patients
may also have forgotten to take, or weren't able to find,
There are also various ways that natural disasters might
cause seizures, including head trauma, infections from polluted
water or a lack of sleep, he added.
But the study did have a practical take home message, he
said: "If you already have seizures and you're taking
medication, always make sure you have a decent supply just in
case some natural disaster occurs."
(Reporting from New York by Trevor Stokes at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)