Conference Coverage

Celiac disease may underlie seizures



Among children with intractable seizures and chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, adherence to a gluten-free diet may reduce seizure burden, according to a retrospective chart review presented at the annual meeting of the Child Neurology Society. Associations between celiac disease and seizures may have implications for screening and treatment, said study author Shanna Swartwood, MD, a fellow in the department of pediatric neurology at University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Cristina Trandafir, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatric neurology, and Shanna Swartwood, MD, a fellow the department of pediatric neurology at University of Utah in Salt Lake City Jake Remaly/MDedge News

Dr. Cristina Trandafir (left) and Dr. Shanna Swartwood

“Screening for [celiac disease] early in patients with epilepsy, specifically with temporal EEG findings and intractable epilepsy, is warranted given the improvement of seizure burden that may result from exclusion of gluten from the diet,” said Dr. Swartwood and colleagues.

About 10% of patients with celiac disease have clinical neurologic manifestations, such as seizures. To characterize features of epilepsy in a pediatric population with celiac disease and to examine the effect of a gluten-free diet on seizure burden, Dr. Swartwood and colleagues reviewed patients treated at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City since 2002. They identified patients with ICD-10 codes for seizures or epilepsy and celiac disease and reviewed 187 charts in all.

In all, 40 patients with seizures had biopsy-proven celiac disease, and 22 had a diagnosis of celiac disease based on the presence of antibodies. Among those with biopsy-proven celiac disease, 43% had intractable seizures. Among those with antibody-positive celiac disease, 31% had intractable seizures.

Among patients with intractable epilepsy, seizure onset preceded the diagnosis of celiac disease by an average of 5 years. For patients with nonintractable epilepsy, the first seizure occurred 1 year before the celiac disease diagnosis on average, but some patients received a celiac disease diagnosis first.

Focal seizures with secondary generalization and generalized tonic clonic seizures were the most common seizure types in this cohort. Epileptiform activity most often was seen in the temporal lobe. While other studies in patients with celiac disease have found occipital epileptiform activity to be the most common, only one patient in this cohort had activity in that location, Dr. Swartwood noted.

Patients with intractable seizures who adhered to a gluten-free diet “had a fairly robust response in terms of seizure improvement,” she said. Seizure improvement, including a decrease in seizure frequency or a decrease in antiepileptic medication dosage, occurred in seven of nine patients in the biopsy-proven group and in two of three patients in the antibody-positive group who adhered to a gluten-free diet and had intractable seizures. One patient was able to stop antiepileptic medication, and one patient had a complete resolution of seizure activity.

The researchers plan to further study the relationship between celiac disease and epilepsy, including whether various HLA subtypes of celiac disease correlate with seizures, said coinvestigator Cristina Trandafir, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatric neurology at University of Utah.

The chart review included relatively few patients with limited data. Nevertheless, the results suggest that there may be “substantial lag time” from first seizure to celiac disease diagnosis and that “earlier diagnosis and earlier placement on a gluten-free diet may be beneficial,” Dr. Swartwood said. Celiac disease may be asymptomatic, and screening for celiac disease with a blood test may make sense for patients with intractable seizures, she said.

The researchers had no relevant disclosures.

SOURCE: Swartwood S et al. CNS 2019. Abstract 63.

Next Article: