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Study Ties Epilepsy and Autism

Update Date: May 16, 2013 10:19 AM EDT

Researchers studying multiple kinds of diseases have often discovered links between two or more of these conditions. For example, doctors know that an increased risk for breast cancer could also increase the risk for ovarian cancer. By understanding these relationships, doctors can better screen patients and recommend preventative measures. In a new study, researchers looked at two other conditions, epilepsy, which is a neurological disorder that results in seizures and autism, another neurological disorder characterized by impaired social and communicative skills. The researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom found a new link between these two conditions.

The head researcher of the study, Dr. SallyAnn Wakeford, who is a part of the Department of Psychology at the University wanted to study the effects of epilepsy on social life. The research team recruited adult volunteers that had epilepsy. After their analyses, the researchers concluded that people who suffered from epileptic seizures also had traits that were tied to autism and Asperger's syndrome, which is a type of autism. The researchers stated that epileptic seizures could be responsible for interfering the neurological function responsible for social behaviors in the brain. Since these social functions are disturbed, people who have epilepsy also exhibit traits associated with autism.

"The social difficulties in epilepsy have been so far under-diagnosed and research has not uncovered any underlying theory to explain them. This new research links social difficulties to a deficit in somatic markers in the brain, explaining these characteristics in adults with epilepsy," Wakeford stated. "It is unknown whether these adults had a typical developmental period during childhood or whether they were predisposed to having autistic traits before the onset of their epilepsy. However what is known is that the social components of autistic characteristics in adults with epilepsy may be explained by social cognitive differences, which have largely been unrecognized until now."

Although the researchers found that a relationship between autistic traits and all kinds of epilepsy, there was one type of epilepsy, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) that seemed to be the most pronounced. The researchers could not find the exact reason as to why people with TLE tended to have more autistic traits. They theorized that this link between the two neurological conditions could be due to the fact that current drug treatments tend to be ineffective for TLE, allowing TLE to affect social functioning more than other types of epilepsy.

The researchers hope that their findings could provide more treatment options for people with epilepsy that exhibit autism traits 

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