In early August of 2019, a Canadian study reported by Reuters indicated that epilepsy patients who did not receive specialist care were more likely to die earlier in life than those who received focused medical attention.
The specialist attention in question is that from neurologists and according to the report, the research team “followed 23,663 adults with epilepsy for an average of 7.5 years. The mortality rate overall was 7.2% - but it ranged from a low of 2.8% for patients seen by neurologists specializing in epilepsy, to 5.6% for patients who saw general neurologists, to a high of 9.4% for people who didn't see neurologists all.”
Neurologists focus on the branch of medicine that emphasizes both the study and treatment of disorders within the nervous system. They “treat disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.” The field encompasses a wide range of issues including cerebrovascular disease, MS, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and more.
As the report from Reuters noted, the people in the study “who saw neurologists or neurologists specializing in epilepsy were younger than patients who didn't, and they were also healthier and had less severe symptoms. Patients who saw epilepsy specialists were 43 years old on average, compared to 48 for people who saw general neurologists and 54 for people who saw non-neurologists.”
The lead author of the study, Mark Lowerinson, said that patients with access to specialized care have better “seizure control and quality of life” and generally experience improved outcomes as well as decreased mortality, as evidenced by the study’s findings.
As he explained the results, patients receiving treatment from “epilepsy specialists,” as opposed to non-neurologist or general neurologist care, are exposed to professionals with a far more in-depth knowledge of epilepsy and its “comorbidities…[as well as] epilepsy management practices.”
Treatment, Results and Mortality Rates
The study noted that roughly “two-thirds of patients with epilepsy could control seizures with medicine and about two-thirds of people who don't get relief from drugs respond to surgical treatment.” Nonetheless, those with epilepsy experience “mortality rates up to three times as high as individuals without the neurological disorder.”
These figures helped with evaluating the study's findings and after factoring in issues that might affect a patient’s longevity, everything from sex, severity of symptoms, age, and other issues, it was determined that 51% who “saw epilepsy specialists were…less likely to die during the study than patients who saw non-neurologists.” Even those who saw general neurologists, rather than epilepsy specialist neurologists, saw a 15% decline in mortality rates and risks.
And while it might appear that the study was attempting to prove that a physician might have an immediate and direct impact on a patient’s survival odds, that was not the goal. Instead, it was a speculative assessment that meant to determine a couple points:
- Is it the epilepsy specialists’ higher levels of experience dealing with patients suffering epilepsy that is highly resistant to drugs or difficult to treat that created improved outcomes?
- Is it that epilepsy specialists have more familiarity with all of the different “avenues of care available?"
The team running the study admitted that their reliance on “administrative claims data and records from health registries” represented a lack of data on “patient characteristics that might influence survival.”
Either way, their findings represent something crucial to those living with difficult to manage epilepsy. If surgical treatments are not an option and drugs do not work, being evaluated by an epilepsy specialist neurologist may be a far more effective approach to an answer than previously anticipated and another avenue for care and treatment.