COVID-19 and Epilepsy
Based on an article originally published February 28, 2020, and updated several times.
What is the coronavirus and COVID-19?
- The novel coronavirus is a virus that humans had not previously been exposed to.
- Just like the flu, it is spread by droplets in the air when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks. The droplets may also stay on surfaces for a while.
- Some people who are exposed don’t get sick.
- If a person gets sick after being exposed to this virus, they can get COVID-19.
- The main symptoms of COVID-19 are cough, fever, pain, and shortness of breath.
- While most people who develop COVID-19 will have only mild to moderate symptoms, some people may need to see a health care provider or be hospitalized.
- A small number of people will get very sick and need breathing help or may even die from complications.
Are people with epilepsy at higher risk of developing COVID-19 (coronavirus)?
Epilepsy is a “family” of many different disorders that lead to seizures. Some people will have easily controlled seizures, have no other health problems, and become seizure-free on medications. Or they may have epilepsy with occasional seizures but no other health problems. For these people, the available data suggests that just having epilepsy alone
- Does not increase the risk of getting COVID-19
- Does not increase the severity of COVID-19
There is no evidence that people with epilepsy alone have a weakened immune system. They should not be considered “immunocompromised” and would not have an “immune deficiency” from having seizures. People with different types of epilepsy, certain causes of epilepsy or other health conditions may have factors affecting their immune system.
What factors may increase the risk from COVID-19 for a person with epilepsy?
Some people with epilepsy regardless of seizure control have other health conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19.
- They may be taking medicines to control seizures that also affect their immune system (for example, ACTH, steroids, everolimus, immunotherapies). It is important to note that most seizure medicines do not affect the immune system.
- Some people may have other neurological or developmental issues that affect their immunity. People in these situations are at greater risk of developing more severe symptoms with viral illnesses.
- People with epilepsy may have other medical problems that could place them at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms with COVID-19 such as:
- People who have problems swallowing or frequently inhale food or liquids into their lungs (aspiration) are at higher risk for pneumonia
- People with diabetes or underlying heart or lung problems
- People ith intellectual and developmental disabilities
Regardless of your situation, it is important for anyone with epilepsy to talk to their treating health care provider about their individual risks and if any specific medical precautions are needed. Take precautions to avoid getting sick too.
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: What is the relationship between health ailments and COVID-19?
Do children get COVID-19 as often as adults?
The coronavirus affects people of all ages. While children over age 1 to mid-20s tend to get milder forms of COVID-19, a minority may also develop serious disease. Some published data suggests that infants may be at higher risk for more serious problems than older children. Other data has shown that children (as well as adults) with intellectual and developmental disabilities may also be at higher risk for more serious problems including death.
- Everyone should remember, you are not protected from getting COVID-19 if you are young, but the risk of dying from it is much less. You can still get seriously ill though.
- Everyone, regardless of age, should follow steps to stay healthy and limit getting exposed to the coronavirus.
- If you have COVID-19 or someone with whom you live has it, talk to your health care provider. Visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov for more information.
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: What is the risk of my child catching COVID-19?
What is autoimmune epilepsy and does it increase my risk for severe COVID-19?
Some types of epilepsy may be caused by a change in the body's immune function. These are called autoimmune epilepsies. The immune system is a critical part of the body that helps us fight infections and inflammation in the body and brain.
- Autoimmune epilepsy may be treated with immunotherapy. Examples of these include steroids or immunoglobulin.
- A person taking any of these medicines may be at higher risk of developing a serious form of COVID-19.
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: Does having autoimmune epilepsy put someone at greater risk of developing COVID-19?
What can people do to limit exposure to the coronavirus?
Follow the advice of the CDC and local authorities to help slow down the spread of COVID-19. Here are extra precautions people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 can take to protect themselves.
- Talk to your health care team for specific recommendations.
- Stay home if feasible.
- If another member of your direct family who lives with you becomes ill
- Can they stay with someone else? If not possible, each person should have their own room, use separate bathrooms, and wash their hands frequently.
- Visit the CDC recommendations on what to do if you are sick or caring for someone.
- If you or a loved one with epilepsy attends a work or day program in your community, talk to the agency about alternatives. Do they offer small group activities that meet local public health and government guidelines. Do they offer some form of home activity?
- If you or your loved one live in a group setting (group home, assisted living, or other long-term care facility), talk to the administrator and medical staff of the facility. Find out what precautions are being taken. If you have concerns about these, talk to your own health care team to see if any adjustments are needed.
- If you have help come into your home, follow common sense and make sure people helping you are following good health practices. Talk to the agency responsible for the people coming into your home so you know what to expect and can share your concerns.
- Have a back-up plan for help in the home too.
Here are important tips for everyone to protect themselves.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- Keep at least 6 feet between you and others
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Wear a mask when you leave the house
- Follow guidelines from your community on when to self-quarantine
- Stay home if you are sick and call your health care provider first if you need an appointment
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: Is it safe to let people into my house?
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: What should I do if I have close contact with someone with COVID-19?
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
First call your health provider (doctor or nurse). The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu or common cold. Your provider will ask you a number of questions to see if you are likely to have COVID-19 or some other illness.
- The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. If these symptoms are mild to moderate, your provider may recommend that you stay home.
- This means “quarantine” yourself – don’t go out in public or have others come into your home.
- Limit your exposure. Wear a mask or scarf if you must leave the house.
- Symptoms can often be treated at home. Ask your provider...
- Which over-the-counter medicines are safe to use with your seizures
- For specific instructions about when to call if symptoms change or don’t get better in a few days
- If you should be tested for the flu and COVID-19. If the symptoms are mild, they may not do tests right away.
- If symptoms don’t get better or you develop shortness of breath, pain, rash, or other concerning symptoms, call your doctor.
- If you live with other people, try to keep away from them. Stay in one room, use your own bathroom, and don’t share food or utensils.
- If you help care for another person who is at risk for serious symptoms of COVID-19, stay away from them. Enlist help from other family, friends, home care agencies or volunteers who can safely care for this person.
- If seizures increase, call your epilepsy team or neurologist.
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
Video - COVID-19 And Epilepsy: What are the best ways to manage illness at home?
We Have More Answers
- Who should get the COVID-19 vaccination?
- Do I need it if I already take precautions?
- Is the vaccine safe?
- What are the side effects?
- How effective is the vaccine?
- Where do I get it?
- Are seizures a symptom of COVID-19?
- Can seizures increase if a person gets COVID-19?
- My seizures are worse. What should I do?
- How do I protect myself from getting sick?
- If COVID-19 is in my community, what should I do?
- When should I wear a mask and what kind is best?
- Are there certain activities or places I should avoid if I have epilepsy?
- Can COVID-19 increase the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy or SUDEP in a person with epilepsy?
- Can people with epilepsy donate blood?
- How can I stay on top of managing my seizures?
- How can I manage my stress and worry?
- How do I stay in touch with my health care team?
- When should I go to an emergency room for seizures?
- My child is being evaluated for epilepsy surgery. Will it be canceled?
- What testing is available to tell if I have COVID-19?
- What is an antibody test and when should a person get this done?
- Does the use of seizure medicines increase the risk of coronavirus infection?
- Do any of the medicines being tried to treat COVID-19 interact with seizure medicines?
- How can I get more medicine if my health care provider prescribes it? Will it be covered by my insurance?
- What if I have other questions about insurance coverage related to COVID-19 testing or treatment?
- Are there shortages in seizure medicines in the United States?
- We are Here for You
- Watch Our Facebook Live Series
- Explore Our COVID-19 and Epilepsy Videos on YouTube
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- More Resources
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