Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Epilepsy and Pseudo-Heart Disease

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Epilepsy and Pseudo-Heart Disease

Article excerpt

Send a doctor a patient complaining of irregular heartbeat or chest pains, and the physician will most likely diagnose heart disease. But in some cases, the problem is centered far above the heart.

The culprit? The neural activity that accompanies seizures has long been known to affect cardiac functioning. But in patients with nonconvulsive types of epilepsy, these secondary symptoms may be misread as the primary illness.

Five specific cardiac problems have been linked to epilepsy: irregular heartbeat, anginal chest pain, pulmonary edema, symptoms of pheochromocytoma -- a tumor linked to hypertension -- and sudden death. This is because the areas of the brain affected by epileptic episodes are linked to the hypothalamus, the section of the brain that affects the autonomic nervous system.

Cardiac arrhythmia -- irregular heartbeat -- is not widely recognized as a symptom of epilepsy. In one study, 90% of patients showed rapid changes in heart rhythm. Yet this symptom is often misread.

Doctors have known that epilepsy can cause chest pain but often miss the connection between the supposed angina and a seizure. It is rare for angina to occur during seizures. Still, physicians should pursue the connection if other factors, such as a history of epilepsy or mind-body dissociation during an anginal attack, exist. …

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