Seizures in eating disorders

International Journal of Eating Disorders
By Maryrose Bauschka, MD, CEDS Dennis Gibson, MD, FACP, CEDS


Objective: To complete a descriptive study of seizure etiology in a large population of eating disorder (ED) patients and to better understand whether malnutrition itself, in those with EDs, is associated with seizure development.

Method: In this retrospective study, 75 patients with documented seizures met inclusion criteria from a total of 1664 charts.

Results: Prevalence of seizures in this ED cohort was found to be 4.5%, with 29.3% of individuals experiencing seizures due to psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES). Other common causes of seizures included substance abuse/withdrawal (18.7%), primary seizure disorder (12%), and electrolyte abnormalities/hypoglycemia (10.7%). Three patients (4%) also developed their seizures presumably due to Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE).

Discussion: Several etiologies of seizures are reported from this large sample of ED patients, and this is also the first study to report on a possible association of WE as a cause of seizures in ED patients. The contribution of WE and malnutrition toward the development of seizures in this population remains to be determined, and future studies should also seek to better understand the inter-relationship between malnutrition and the other variables discussed in this article, such as hypomagnesemia, toward seizure development.

Public significance: The medical complications of EDs are myriad but seizures have not historically been considered one of those direct complications of malnutrition. The findings of this retrospective study suggest that seizure development may be a direct and indirect complication associated with EDs. The presentation of Wernicke's encephalopathy, which can also be associated with development of seizures, requires further investigation in those with EDs.

Written by

Maryrose Bauschka, MD, CEDS

Dr. Maryrose Bauschka is a board-certified psychiatrist who works with ACUTE’s multidisciplinary treatment team to deliver direct psychiatric care and medication management for patients touched by the…
Written by

Dennis Gibson, MD, FACP, CEDS

Dennis Gibson, MD, FACP, CEDS serves as the Clinical Operations Director at ACUTE. Dr. Gibson joined ACUTE in 2017 and has since dedicated his clinical efforts to the life-saving medical care of…

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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