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BOSTON, Mass. — People with high blood pressure are twice as likely to develop epilepsy, warns a new study. A team from the Boston University School of Medicine say a growing number of older people could suffer from the potentially deadly condition unless they take steps to reduce their risk for hypertension.

Epilepsy, which causes frequent seizures, is the third-most common neurological condition affecting elderly people, after strokes and dementia-related diseases. Researchers believe the number of older adults developing late-onset epilepsy will rise in countries with an aging population.

While often caused by strokes, there is no explanation why the condition affects some people and not others in more than a third of cases. The new study finds high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, could be a part of the puzzle.

Nearly half of all U.S. adults have hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s roughly 116 million people with a blood pressure higher than 130/80 mmHg.

“Our study shows that hypertension, a common, modifiable, vascular risk factor, is an independent predictor of epilepsy in older age,” says co-author Dr. Maria Stefanidou in a media release.

“Even though epidemiological studies can only show association and not causation, this observation may help identify subgroups of patients who will benefit from targeted, aggressive hypertension management and encourage performance of dedicated clinical studies that will focus on early interventions to reduce the burden of epilepsy in older age.”

High blood pressure worse than diabetes and smoking?

The study followed 2,986 Americans over the age of 45 who attended a medical exam as part of the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) between 1991 and 1995. Follow-up exams kept track of them over the next 19 years. During that time, doctors diagnosed 55 new cases of epilepsy.

The risk of developing epilepsy was twice as high for those with high blood pressure or who were taking medication for it, even after controlling for strokes. In comparison, other medical conditions like diabetes and lifestyle choices such as smoking did not increase the risk of epilepsy.

“In this study we show that hypertension is an independent predictor of new-onset epilepsy and carries a 2-fold risk of developing unprovoked seizures after the age of 45,” Dr. Stefanidou adds in a statement to SWNS. “Conversely, no other common cerebrovascular risk factors showed a significant association.”

Epilepsy affects parts of the brain, causing frequent seizures, with possible symptoms ranging from jerking and shaking to collapsing. An ideal blood pressure is considered to be around 120/80 mmHg, with doctors categorizing anything above 140/90 mmHg as high blood pressure.

Fortunately, people can lower their blood pressure by making lifestyle adjustments like eating healthy foods and exercising on a regular basis.

“Given that hypertension is a highly prevalent risk factor, projected to increase in the short term, and frequently remains untreated, our results have important implications for public health care, as hypertension is modifiable,” Dr. Stefanidou tells SWNS.

The findings are published in the journal Epilepsia.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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