Seizures and Bipolar Disorder: Is There a Connection?


When The Seizures Began

About 15 years ago I had a series of blackouts. At the time I was living in Stockton, California, which is about 80 miles east of San Francisco. From my viewpoint the blackouts weren’t so bad. I would blackout suddenly and then come out of it suddenly. It would seem like hours had passed and I’d be light headed, but I was all right. Despite how it felt, the amount of time I’d actually been out was seconds, not hours. One day I had a couple of friends over and it happened. It was the first time one of these short blackouts occurred while anyone else was around. When I opened my eyes they were looking at me with their mouths wide open. It was only through them I found out that my eyes had rolled back in my head and I shook violently. I was having seizures.

I went to my physician who became gravely concerned and immediately rushed me through an MRI and an EEG. He said he was most concerned that it may be from a brain tumor. The tests were inconclusive and the seizures disappeared and the doctor said there was nothing we could do. If I wasn’t having the seizures, there was no way to say where they’d come from. There was nothing to measure.

It was during this time I went through an extremely difficult period mentally. I was depressed and received anti-depressants from my doctor. I also had manic episodes, though, I did not know that’s what they were at the time. I just thought they were uplifting times I wasn’t depressed.

I’m not going to say I have epilepsy. That just seems over-dramatic to me. I’ve never been diagnosed with epilepsy, however, looking at numerous websites, including the Mayo Clinic’s, I fit most of the symptoms.

They Came Back With a Vengeance

Approximately 5 years later I was living in Los Angeles and it started all over again. This time the seizures were different, though. I not only was having seizures, but would experience pain in my head afterwards and I also was suffering from severe vertigo. I brushed them off at first, assuming they’d go away again, but it didn’t end that quickly.

Two events occurred that made me concerned enough to finally see a doctor. The first event was that I stayed lucid. My body and my arms started flailing wildly, and, though my eyes rolled into the back of my head, I had just enough eyesight to see the look of horror on Maurice’s face. I stayed conscious and it was scary. The second event was that I had one seizure and immediately afterwards had another. Two in a row is what scared me the most. This set of seizures began just around the time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I began wondering if they were related.

The Research

Over the years there’s been much conjecture as to whether there is a connection between bipolar disorder and seizures. I read many articles stating it seemed likely that the two were related, but none mentioned any studies to show that relation. But now, a study conducted by the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria sheds at least a little bit of light on the subject.

On 5/18/14, medwireNews reported a study in which, 60 first-degree relatives of epilepsy patients were asked to complete a Mood Disorder Questionnaire. Based on the responses, 14.5% had bipolar disorder, compared with just 2.1% of 50 control hospital visitors who did not have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder or epilepsy.
In addition, 15.2% of 40 first-degree relatives of bipolar disorder patients had epilepsy, assessed by applying International League Against Epilepsy criteria to the participants’ responses to a predesigned questionnaire. By contrast, just 2.0% of the control group were judged to have epilepsy.

This implies “genetic or/and environmental relationships between the two disorders”, say study author Mohammed Jidda and co-workers in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The researchers concluded “Large family studies of multiple first-degree relatives of bipolar disorder and epilepsy (prelude to twin or/and gene studies) should be conducted to confirm the etiological overlap between the two disorders, resulting from a shared genetic susceptibility.”

The researchers caution that, although the findings are in line with other studies, their research was preliminary and hospital-based, and did not account for many potentially confounding environmental factors and behaviors.

In line with other studies? What other studies? I’ve been looking for years and haven’t found any. They must be top secret, only to be viewed by other researchers.

The Conclusion Is There Is No Conclusion

Regarding the seizures I was having here in L.A., I was transferred from doctor to doctor, including two separate neurologists. I had 3 MRI’s and 3 EEG’s and a CT scan. The results? Inconclusive again. No matter how hard the doctors tried to induce seizures, it never happened while I was being monitored. Once again the seizures went away and I was told that there was no way to give a diagnoses. On my last visit with my neurologist I was frustrated and asked, “So what the hell was happening? What was causing the seizures?” Her response to me was there was no way to know, and that it was a probably a chemical imbalance or something.

I left her office angry, still wondering if there was a connection between seizures and bipolar disorder. I did mull over the fact that she said it was probably a chemical imbalance. After all, the general consensus among doctors is that bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance. Could they be the same? I can’t say, but I know what I believe.

Those of you that have bipolar, or have family members with bipolar, have you experienced anything similar?

Source: medwireNews

17 comments on Seizures and Bipolar Disorder: Is There a Connection?

  1. well, it has always seemed to me that there must be some kind of link between seizure disorders and bipolar disorder, mainly due to the common and successful use of anti-seizure meds in bipolar treatment (lamotigene, valproate, tegretol, etc).

    additionally, and this is purely anecdotal—i find that sometimes i jerk and spasm for no apparent reason. i have never had a full seizure like you describe having, but my upper body or one arm, or head or leg will just jerk once or twice, and i have never known why, except that i felt it was somehow a symptom of my bipolar. it is not frequent enough or long lasting enough to really bother my functioning, so i have never mentioned this to a doc. but with your experience, mine, and the common use of anti seizure meds for bipolar, it does seem to suggest that there is more than a simple association between seizure disorders and bipolar and that it may even be enough to qualify as a correllation, but more studies on this are needed to that.

    1. I was put on lamotigene for exactly the reasons you list above. My neurologist and my pdoc discussed it and agreed it was okay to no longer take anti-seizure meds as long as I took lamotigene.

      I look forward to when a couple of good studies are done.

  2. This was a rather horrifying thing to watch. I don’t want to see this happen to you, or anyone, ever again!

  3. When it’s REALY bad, I mean total breakdown can’t function in the hospital bad, it feels exactly like there is an electrical storm in my head. I have thought it was almost like watching a seizure from the inside. That having been said, I have a really large extended family with mono polar depression and loads of. Bipolar disorder and no one has seizures. So in our particular gene variet I think that little delight is missing.

    1. Sounds like enough going on so it’s good to see this is one thing you don’t have to deal with. Be thankful. Always good to see you posting comments, Lora

  4. I also was diagnosed with bipolar shortly after I started having seizures in adulthood. I was put on an anti-epilepsy drug (lamictal) and both disorders are under control. To me it seems there surely is a correlation. I have also never been diagnosed with epilepsy or had a seizure in a controlled environment, but have had multiple obvious seizures in the presence of others.

  5. I had two sports-related second grade closed brain injuries. I have had bipolar since youth with problems sleeping and periodic small seizures. Epilepsy is now diagnosed and many of my doctors think it can be traced back to second grade. i

  6. My daughter has always been prescribed epilepsy related medication such as Valproate (“Epilim”) for Bipolar I, and Lamotrigine , now that she’s been downgraded to Bipolar II. It seems that her type of Bipolar is a “physically” manifesting disorder, that makes her jumpy and super active. She never responded well to Lithium for some reason. We have a very good website here in Sydney called The Black Dog Institute:

    1. I don’t know much about meds I don’t take, but I think it’s rare for BP II to be prescribed lithium. Thanks for the link. I’m going to check it out now.

  7. That all sounds really scary. I’m sorry that’s something you have to deal with from time to time. I found this super old blog post of yours because I’m seeing a neurologist soon too for possible seizures. My seizures in question don’t present typically either so I imagine it’ll all be very inconclusive either. I’m just reaching out to see what other people’s experiences are… so thank you <3

  8. I believe there is a link to epilepsy and bipolar disorder. I have tonic-clinic seizures (somewhat controlled by both kepra and lamictal), and my youngest sister has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I don’t know if this helps, but I’m glad there is research being done. If you’re still in LA, look into UCLA’s adult epilepsy program. It’s the best in the country. You’re not alone.

  9. I’m 37 and I have bipolar 1 and was diagnosed back in 2004 and in January of 2017 I was diagnosed with complex partial seizures. For months weird things were happening and I went to many doctors and still see doctors for all my condition but I still have know answers. As of late I have episodes of being disconnected. And confused not sure of what I’m supposed to be doing .

  10. My story is longer because I’m older! The first symptoms came in post-partum and never went away. Four years a doc told me I had major depression but the kind that ramped up anxiety, anger, later turned to rage then turned on myself. In Panel of for 4 years, ended up on lithium. All I got out of that was a bald head. Wild rapid mood swings. I was crazy, no doubt about that. After several suicide attempts ( i didn’t plan just dumped while bottles of pills then stuck a gun in my mouth in front of my 10 year old daughter.
    That was it. ECT. Never do that! Lost my memory all the way back to 5 years old with tons of brain damage.
    Went through all assortment of meds. None worked.
    Time went by meds upped continouslt, two heart attacks, two strikes and oh yeah seizures began out of the blue. Grand mal one right after another without stopping. More brain damage.
    The only thing I’ve noted throughtout studies was the component of post partum depression for women.
    I’m 62 years old now, still fighting the battle.
    At a loss my pdoc out me on Lamictal. Another wild ride.
    Settled that by adding Keppra. Went along with less severe swings by a long shot but depression depression hammered away.
    Pdoc at wits end out me on Cytomel. Straight up thyroid T3. No dessicated anything therefore I see that as snake oil because it can t be measured.
    Long story but Cytomel mixed in my cocktail fixed me right up.
    Terrifies my food because the levels of free T3 have to be pretty high.
    It is what it is what it is, but seizures gone, moods in best shape I’ve had in 34 years.
    I have looked into the neurobiology of it all. I figure my research of ” their ” research will get me an answer if “why” sooner rather than later.
    Best of luck to all.

  11. Have you been tested for the genetic condition, Hereditary Hemochromatosis? Variant gene HFE iti mutates (most often) C282Y, H63D, and S65C. I nherited two C282Y’s. My parents both are carriers and have one variant vs. 2.
    This is a genetic disorder that does not manifest until middle age. It’s creates Iron overload in the body. It can effect every organ in the body except the lungs. I am waiting to find out tomorrow if I have a thyroid issue. Hoshimoto’s. It would explain nearly everything; from the seizures to the hair loss (grown back now) to the hip replcements, to the brain issues.

    The genes that cause hemochromotsis are inherited, but only a minority of people who have the genes ever develop serious problems. Signs and symptoms of hereditary hemochromatosis usually appear in midlife. For me, I was 36 when my hip joints started to collapse. One morning I woke up and couldn’t walk on my right leg the pain manifested in my knee though, then left my knee and went to groin, bum, hip. Within 6 months, same happened on my left. It happened that fast.Took a year and a half of mind bending pain to get two total hip replacements. In my early mid-30’s I had more Severe mood swings manic/then down, manic/then down. Anger etc. Lack of interest in what I normally am super into and passionate about.

    When I was 35.5 I was diagnosed bi-polar. Put on Lamotrigine… After been on it a year and a half, started having seizures. I am not epileptic. Had horrible grand mal seizures. Probably 16 over 2 months. Weened myslelf off limitragine. Seizures stopped. The AED really, never worked as should have behavioraly. Got on lithium, felt weird on it; Once or twice I smelled metal when my monthly came and I was in wash room. I weined myself off.

    Found out I have both variant genes”Celtic Curse.” Thank goodness I took myself off lithium. I was basically metal poisoning myself unknowingly. Mediciine for BP has NEVER worked. In fact, with time the medicine makes it worse. I’ve tried at least one RX from each of the categories dr.’s pull from. Thyroid issues would also explain that as well.

    Anyhow, this is probably far too late, but my experience seems to be parallel toy yours. It’s so frustrating to not have answers. Two years of torture. Not to mention the affects it has on your loved ones too. I hope you are well.

  12. I had Grandmal seizors from birth until i was nineteen.Then when i hit my mid twentys i was diagonsed with bipoloar disoder with manic episodes which seem to get worse after my husbands death i dont know if it is realted or not but it looks like an answer to me.

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