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Epilepsy Can Increase Risk of Traffic Accidents

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Sept. 11, 2001 -- People with epilepsy may feel it's safe to drive when their seizures seem to be under control, but is that really a safe assumption?

"Patients with epilepsy were seven times more likely to have a driving accident leading to emergency room care than those without epilepsy," Svend Lings, MD, PhD, a consultant at Odense University Hospital in Denmark, tells WebMD about his study in the Aug. 14 issue of Neurology.

Other experts interviewed by WebMD feel it's important, though, to take these findings with a grain of salt, while still using common sense to reduce driving risks.

"People who are seizure-free should be allowed to drive, but not those with frequent seizures," Robert Fisher, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at Stanford University in California, tells WebMD. "It's a balancing act, keeping the roads safer without sacrificing the rights of the 1/2 to 1% of the population that has epilepsy."

In the U.S., individual states prohibit driving anywhere from three months to two years following a seizure. Worldwide, restrictions range from six months to never, which is obviously difficult to enforce. Other studies suggest that the risk of driving accidents for someone who has not had a seizure for six months is only 1.2-2 times greater than in the overall population -- the same or less risk than for drivers who are elderly, men under age 25, or heart patients, Fisher says.

In Lings' study, patients may have had more serious problems with epilepsy, thereby causing higher accident risk, explains Allan Krumholz, MD, a professor of neurology at University of Maryland in Baltimore. "Exactly what the accident risk is in epilepsy patients is not entirely clear."

In the U.S., the population of women with epilepsy has a better driving record than the population of all men with and without epilepsy, says Sandy Finucane, a lawyer for the Epilepsy Foundation of America in Landover, Md.

"Most accidents in people with epilepsy are due to driver error, the same cause of accidents as in the general public," Krumholz tells WebMD.

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