Teens and adults with epilepsy are at increased risk for depression and should undergo regular screening, two new studies say.
In one study, researchers evaluated nearly 400 teens, ages 15 to 18, with epilepsy. They found that 8 percent had moderate or severe depression and another 5 percent had attempted suicide or thought about it.
An additional 22 percent of teens scored high enough to suggest a risk for depressive symptoms, the researchers said.
The rate of depression in the general population is less than 8 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Abnormal brain activity in people with epilepsy causes seizures or periods of unusual sensations.
"We know that depression is more common in people with epilepsy compared to the general population, but there is less information about depression in children and teens than adults," said lead author Hillary Thomas, a psychologist at Children's Health System in Dallas.
Also, little is known about the factors that increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms, Thomas said in a news release from the American Epilepsy Society.
"Depression screening should be routine at epilepsy treatment centers and can identify children and teens who would benefit from intervention," she added.
Study senior author Dr. Susan Arnold is director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She said the findings hint at a larger problem.
"Our results don't mean that only 13 percent of the teens with epilepsy had depressive symptoms," Arnold said.
"They indicate the significant percentage of teens whose level of depressive symptoms warranted behavioral health referrals or further evaluation or even intervention during a clinic visit," Arnold explained. "Health care providers need to be vigilant about continually screening children and teens for depression."
The other study involved 120 adults with epilepsy. Researchers found that 52 percent who'd experienced a health crisis, such as an emergency room visit or accident, had moderate or severe depression.
That study also found that adult epilepsy patients with depression may have other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or panic disorder. They too should be screened, the researchers said.
"People with epilepsy who have depression are more likely to have seizures, so treating the depression doesn't just help with depression, but also with the epilepsy," said Dr. Martha Sajatovic, lead author of the adult study. She's director of neurological outcomes at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.
"Identifying people with epilepsy who have depression or other mental health issues is half of the battle," Sajatovic said. "Following up to ensure they receive treatment is vital, because it can truly change patient outcomes and help them achieve their best quality of life."
For example, the researchers found that severely depressed epilepsy patients are less likely to work.
Those who are identified with mental health issues should get treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, said Sajatovic.
The studies were scheduled for presentation Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, in New Orleans. Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.