People with Epilepsy are more likely to be Smokers, Study Suggests

Posted Jul 20 2016 in Living with epilepsy

There is a strong correlation between epilepsy and smoking according to a study of people living in French-speaking Switzerland.

Although it has yet to be established whether or not epilepsy actually causes smoking, there appears to be a genetic link between susceptibility to epilepsy and to nicotine addiction. There is also a more indirect association, as people find benefit in smoking to relieve stress or depression associated with epilepsy.

For the study, published in the Journal of Neurology, a team of scientists led by Dr Fabienne Picard, from University Hospitals and Medical School of Geneva, analysed 429 people, aged 16 years and older, who had epilepsy and who lived in French-speaking Switzerland.

The data were compared with those from the ‘Tabakmonitoring’ database, which provides annual, detailed information about tobacco use habits in Switzerland’s ‘general’ population, according to linguistic region.

For the epilepsy group, a questionnaire requesting information about their epilepsy type and smoking habits was sent to neurologists to complete with their epilepsy patients. Being a ‘current smoker’ was defined as having had at least one cigarette per day for the previous six months.

Sixteen of the questions were about tobacco consumption (frequency, amount, type, attempts at cessation), and 13 questions were about the type of epilepsy the person had. Four of the questions explored the possible link between epilepsy and smoking (two concerned the relationship between the timings of epilepsy onset and the starting smoking) and two looked at the possible subjective effect of tobacco consumption on seizure frequency. Three questions were about general health (including two screening questions about depression).

The results showed that 32.1% of people with epilepsy were smokers, compared to 19% of the ‘general’ French-speaking Swiss population. The highest prevalence of smoking was seen amongst people with idiopathic generalised epilepsy (44.3%) compared to 27.8% for other types of epilepsy.

These findings are important because they suggest that people with epilepsy may need additional education and support concerning the issue of smoking. Future studies will hopefully focus on understanding the mechanism underlying the relationship between tobacco smoking and epilepsy, so measures to ‘address’ it can be developed.

Author: Dr Özge Özkaya

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