Asthma and epilepsy: what do we know?

  • March 9, 2022
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In this article

Asthma and epilepsy are two of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. Around 25 million Americans have asthma, while 3.4 million are living with epilepsy. What is more, some people have both asthma and seizures at the same time – something that doctors call a comorbidity.

So, is there a link between asthma and epilepsy?

What are asthma and epilepsy?

Before seeing if there’s a link between asthma and seizures, it’s important to define what the conditions are:

  • Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs and the tubes you use to inhale and exhale. It can cause breathlessness, tightness in the chest and coughing.
  • Epilepsy is a condition that affects your brain. It makes you have epileptic seizures, which are caused by sudden discharges of electricity between your brain cells.

Is there a link between asthma and epilepsy?

Right now, scientists are still not sure if there is a link between asthma and epilepsy. Different studies have produced different findings, and there isn’t a general agreement among researchers.

On one hand, several studies have found an ‘association’ between asthma and epilepsy. An ‘association’ means that they often seem to happen at the same time, but we don’t have enough evidence to prove a link. For example, one study in Taiwan showed that people with asthma were more likely to have epilepsy than people who didn’t have asthma. This suggests epilepsy could be an asthma comorbidity.

One possible explanation might be something called ‘respiratory alkalosis’. If you breathe too fast (as might happen during an asthma attack) this can increase the ‘excitability’ of neurons in the brain. That might trigger a seizure for some people.

But other studies disagree with that finding. For example, a US study from 1998 found that the rate of people with epilepsy who had asthma was about the same as with people who didn’t have epilepsy. That suggests that the conditions are not linked – some people just happen to have both.

Right now, we just don’t have enough information to definitely know if there is a close link between asthma and epilepsy.

Other epilepsy comorbidities: Diabetes and epilepsy

Non-epileptic asthma seizure disorder

Sometimes people with asthma may experience seizure-like symptoms that look epileptic, but which aren’t caused by electric discharges in the brain. 

People with asthma seizure disorders may hyperventilate when they feel panicked about having an asthma attack. This can cause seizure-like symptoms like twitching, shaking and making uncontrollable noises or movements. However, these aren’t strictly epileptic seizures because they are not caused by electrical discharges in the brain. 

Learn more: Learn about psychogenic non-epileptic seizures

Talk with your doctor about epilepsy and asthma comorbidities 

If you have epilepsy and asthma, you might be concerned about how the conditions could affect one another – especially if you’re taking medications to manage them both. Talking with your doctor about asthma and seizures is a good place to start. Your doctor can check if your asthma and epilepsy medications might interact with one another, and also help you plan your seizure emergency plan if you also experience asthma attacks. 

You might also find it helpful to log all your seizure data within the Epsy app, which connects to Epsy Hub, our platform for healthcare professionals. This helps improve conversations when you have appointments with your treatment team. 

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