Post-Traumatic Epilepsy Decades After Injury

A study of nearly 200 Vietnam vets found that 13% of those with penetrating head wounds developed epilepsy more than 14 years later. A few veterans had new seizures that popped up 45 years after the initial injury.

The results of the Vietnam Head Injury Study, published in the journal Neurology, confirmed that epilepsy is common after injuries that pierced the brain, such as from bullets or shrapnel. But why it takes so long for some vets to develop seizures remains a mystery.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:

“There are all sorts of things that can contribute to a [late-onset] seizure, including sleep deprivation, excessive drinking and other kinds of illnesses,” Grafman said. [study coauthor Jordan Grafman, chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Section of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke]

The study showed that soldiers who retained pieces of metal in their brains were at heightened risk for seizures, as were those with larger brain lesions (these also predicted a higher frequency of seizures).

This is a great piece of information, and we believe it probably is applicable to other penetrating head injuries, such as from a car wreck or assault. We’ve always known that the brain is a delicate and mysterious organ, and this study shows that the true effects of wounds don’t always show up immediately. Long-term follow-up is important for everyone with a serious brain injury.

“You can have an injury and get better, but with time, people don’t always do as well as they should,” said Dr. Gerald Grant, associate professor of neurosurgery at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and a former Air Force neurosurgeon. “It shows us that this is a chronic disease.” [also from the LA Times article]

Not all injuries heal with time. Brain injury is not like breaking a bone… it’s more like dropping a computer on the floor. There’s a chance that the wiring will remain intact, but you won’t necessarily see the actual damage until you run the machine for awhile.

We can’t say this often enough: Every head injury holds the potential to cause brain injury. And now we can add that brain injury holds the potential for lifelong problems, including seizures, cognitive deficits, and memory issues.

To read more about the effects of traumatic brain injury, see the HensonFuerst TBI web page.

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