Children born with heart defects at increased risk of epilepsy

Bradley Marino, MD, MPP, MSCE, professor of pediatrics in the division of cardiology, was co-author of the study, which examined the risk of epilepsy in patients with congenital heart disease.

According to a Northwestern Medicine study published in the journal Traffic.

Bradley Marino, MD, MPP, MSCE, professor of pediatrics in the division of cardiology, was co-author of the article.

The study is the first long-term investigation to identify a higher risk of epilepsy in patients with congenital heart disease (CHD), compared to the general population. Coronary artery disease – a structural problem of the heart present at birth – is the most common type of birth defect and, thanks to advances in treatment, an increasing number of adults are now living with this disease.

In the observational study, Marino and a team of collaborators looked at data from more than 15,000 patients born and diagnosed with coronary artery disease between 1980 and 2010 in Denmark.

They found that children with coronary artery disease were more than three times more likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy before the age of five, compared to the general population, and more than twice as likely between the ages of 5 and 32​ years. Overall, the incidence of epilepsy in patients with CHD at age 15 was 5 percent.

The risk of epilepsy was particularly high in patients who had undergone multiple surgeries for coronary heart disease, although the risk remained comparatively higher even for those born with mild conditions who had not undergone any surgery.

The authors suggest that the increased risk may be the result of non-surgical factors, such as a lack of sufficient oxygen due to coronary artery disease that leads to neurodevelopmental changes. There may also be a genetic explanation for the link between coronary heart disease and epilepsy.

Marino is also a professor of medical social sciences and a member of the Heart Center at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

The research was supported by grants from the Danish Children’s Heart Foundation and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Heart Institute Research Fund.