Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition resulting in involuntary shaking, slow movement, and stiff, inflexible muscles. Some people with Parkinson’s disease may also experience seizures, which are uncontrollable electrical disturbances in the brain.

Epilepsy is a condition in which people have recurrent seizures. Seizures may result from boosting the glutamate pathway, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter, and an influx of calcium into neurons.

A growing body of research links clinical signs of neurodegenerative disease to the increased excitability of neurons that happens before a seizure. Studies have found that people with epilepsy are 2.5 times more likely to go on to develop Parkinson’s disease than those without.

This article will explain the link between Parkinson’s disease, seizures, and epilepsy overall. It will also detail ways to manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson's and seizures Share on Pinterest
Sabine Kriesch/EyeEm/Getty Images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.2% of the United States population have active epilepsy and experience seizures. The Parkinson’s Foundation estimates that almost 1 million people live in the U.S. with Parkinson’s disease.

Although the two conditions do not usually have a link, they can coexist, and epilepsy may contribute to the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The cause of epileptic seizures

Researchers tend to think that the intensification of the glutamate pathway, along with a massive influx of calcium into neurons, triggers epileptic seizures and promotes neurotoxic effects, resulting in cell death.

Some have proposed other mechanisms, which also relate to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, due to some similar biological mechanisms, researchers have tested antiseizure medications for these conditions.

Parkinson’s disease can cause a lack of balance, which may lead to falls that result in potential brain injuries. This, in turn, can lead to epilepsy.

Studies linking Parkinson’s disease and seizures

The authors of a 2021 study found a growing body of research linking markers suggestive of neurodegenerative disease to the increased excitability of neurons, which happens before a seizure.

Additionally, a retrospective cohort study from 2018 explored the link between Parkinson’s disease and epileptic seizures. The researchers found that people with Parkinson’s disease were at increased risk of seizures.

People with Parkinson’s disease, alongside another brain disorder or disease that induces seizures, were the most likely to have epileptic seizures. The researchers compared these people with those who did not have Parkinson’s or another seizure-inducing disease.

Read more about Parkinson’s disease here.

Seizures are the only symptom of epilepsy, and research shows that there is a link with Parkinson’s disease.

  • Epilepsy as a risk factor: A case-control study from 2022 found that epilepsy was a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. Researchers had discussed this risk factor before, but not in any study as large as this one. The results showed that people with epilepsy are 2.5 times more likely to receive a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis than people without epilepsy. So, for every 500 people with epilepsy, two to three of them go on to develop Parkinson’s disease.
  • Diagnosis difficulties: The authors of a case series from 2016, including five people aged 49–85, suggested that when a person has Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy simultaneously, it can be difficult to diagnose or correctly interpret their involuntary movements. They also said that Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy could potentially have an effect on each other.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases and epilepsy: A population-based study of older adults from 2021 found that doctors more frequently diagnosed epilepsy in people with neurodegenerative diseases. This was particularly true in the case of people with a previous depression, traumatic brain injury, or stroke diagnosis.
  • Future risks: The British Geriatrics Society reported that people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and receiving Medicare had double the risk of developing epilepsy within five years than those without Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. This risk was about 4.5% versus about 2.5%.

The Parkinson’s Foundation advises that a person should receive treatment tailored to their individual symptoms, which they should discuss with their healthcare professional. Ways to manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • exercise
  • physical therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • speech therapy
  • talk therapy
  • medications for problems with movement, constipation, urinary dysfunction, or sleep
  • surgery

There are also medications that manage the underlying condition or neurotransmitter cause of Parkinson’s disease itself.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery mostly helps to reduce symptoms that have associations with movement. It may also help with medication side effects, sleep, pain, and urinary urgency. However, the procedure itself carries a small risk of seizures, which is the case with all brain surgeries.

Some people may also try medical cannabis and other complementary therapies to manage Parkinson’s symptoms.

Antiseizure medications

Other people may benefit from antiseizure medications. For instance, a case report study from 2017 highlighted the fact that Parkinson’s disease can cause symptoms related to how a person moves, as well as symptoms not related to their movement.

Some of the nonmotor symptoms related to behavior may be seizures. Diagnostic testing can help distinguish seizures from the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s disease or its medications.

The study examined the cases of two people with Parkinson’s disease who experienced acute episodes of cognitive changes. However, doctors took a long time to diagnose them with focal nonmotor seizures with alteration of awareness.

The diagnosis only came after an electroencephalogram (EEG), which is a recording of brain activity, revealed abnormalities. Both people got better after receiving anti-epileptic therapy.

Some people may develop symptoms of psychosis as a side effect of medications. A study from 2022 suggested that people with Parkinson’s disease psychosis, who do not respond to treatment, may benefit from anti-epileptic medications.

Visual hallucinations are the main sign that a person with Parkinson’s disease is developing psychosis side effects.

The researchers found a significantly high incidence of a brain alteration known as temporal lobe epileptiform discharges, seen as EEG abnormalities, in people with Parkinson’s disease who also had visual hallucinations.

People may mistakenly consider some symptoms to be side effects but they can actually be seizures.

Read more about medications for seizures here.

Read more about vitamin B6 here.

People do not often associate epilepsy or seizures with Parkinson’s disease. However, both conditions affect the brain, and research suggests there may be a link.

Other treatments to help manage the symptoms of this neurodegenerative condition include exercise, physical therapy, and surgery.