Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which seizures occur as a result of abnormal neuron signaling. This irregular signaling may briefly alter a person’s consciousness, movements, or actions. However, having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. People are considered to have epilepsy when they have had two or more unprovoked seizures. Seizure symptoms can include convulsions, loss of consciousness, blank staring, lip smacking and/or jerking movements of the arms and legs.
One of the most-studied neurotransmitters that plays a role in epilepsy is GABA. Many of the drugs used to treat epilepsy affect GABA. These drugs alter the amount of GABA in the brain or change how the brain responds to it.
Another area of study in relation to epilepsy is depression. It’s estimated that 22% of epileptics have depression compared to 12% of the general population. This is believed to be due to the effect chronic epilepsy has on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, specifically cortisol. Activity in the hippocampus leads to higher cortisol levels secreted from the adrenal glands. Elevated cortisol levels and hyperactivity of the HPA axis impair serotonin 5-HT1A receptors. This leads to decreased serotoninergic activity in the hippocampus. The resulting deficit in serotonergic activity can lead to the development of depression.
For patients with epilepsy, neurotransmitter and adrenal assessments can provide an important look at which neurotransmitters and hormones are out of balance and potentially contributing to the seizures or associated symptoms. Providing therapy that targets individual imbalances can help to improve symptoms and quality of life for a patient.