Children with type 1 diabetes are three times more likely to develop epilepsy later in life, according to new research.
Children under the age of six with diabetes were six times more likely to develop epilepsy, and type 1 children who were treated in hospital for severe hypoglycemia were 16.5 times more likely.
However, researchers at China Medical University Children’s Hospital, Taichung, Taiwa, stressed that their study did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between type 1 diabetes and epilepsy.
A study team led by Dr. I-Ching Chou analysed data on nearly 2,600 children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database.
The average age of patients was 10 years old, and each patient was matched by sex, urbanisation of residence area and index year with 10 control patients without type 1 diabetes.
Computer modelling estimated that the type 1 diabetes cohort was 2.84 times more likely to develop epilepsy than the control cohort.
The authors said: “This result is consistent with those of previous studies in that epilepsy or seizures are observed in many autoimmune or inflammatory disorders and are linked to the primary disease, or secondary to pro-inflammatory processes.”
The researchers added that they weren’t sure why type 1 diabetes and epilepsy are linked. They suspect several factors could be involved, such as immune abnormalities, genetic factions, brain lesions and metabolic abnormalities. Furthermore, both high and low blood glucose levels could play a role.
“In particular, both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia commonly occur in elderly people with diabetes, and can alter the balance between the inhibition and excitation of neuronal networks and cause focal motor seizures,” said the researchers.
“In addition, we found that younger age was associated with an increased risk of developing epilepsy. Previous studies have suggested severe hypoglycemia, young age and early onset as critical risk factors for brain abnormalities … The current results could provide evidence to facilitate the prognosis of children with type 1 diabetes.”
The researchers concluded that the “absolute” risk of any one person with type 1 diabetes going on to develop remains small, and further studies are required to investigate the connection between the two conditions.
The findings appear in the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD).

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