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Smart Watch Data Reveal Epilepsy Triggers

Smart watch

(Oliur Rahman, Paxels)

(22 February 2017). Data collected with Apple smart watches show stress and missed sleep tend to trigger more seizures among people with epilepsy than other causes. These findings were among results reported today by a team from Johns Hopkins University at the annual meeting of American Academy of Neurology.

The Johns Hopkins researchers, led by neurology professor Gregory Krauss, provided their first results from a project that began in October 2015. Krauss and colleagues are seeking better ways of recording events and activities of people with epilepsy as their episodes occur, with an app called EpiWatch configured to work with the Apple Watch and iPhone. EpiWatch was designed with Apple’s ResearchKit that provides modules for tracking activity, conducting surveys, and gaining user consent.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures with symptoms ranging from blank stares to tingling sensations to loss of consciousness. World Health Organization estimates some 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, where in many cultures people with the condition face stigma and discrimination. While epilepsy can be treated in most cases, WHO says as many as 30 percent of episodes do not respond to treatment.

Participants in the study, people with epilepsy and an Apple Watch, are asked to open the app when they first encounter an aura, or warning episode. EpiWatch then records the person’s heart rate and movements for 10 minutes, and asks participants to perform simple tasks to test their responsiveness. Participants complete a brief survey following the episode to describe the seizure, any loss of awareness, and possible triggers.

The Johns Hopkins team reports 598 individuals signed up as participants in the study, with 40 percent of the group recording 1,485 seizures for 10 months. Some 177 individuals reported on triggers for their episodes, with nearly 4 in 10 (37%) attributing their seizures to stress. Among those reporting stress as a trigger, individuals working full time are more likely to report this cause for their seizures (35%) than participants working part-time, unemployed, or disabled — 29 percent or less.

The other main seizure triggers reported are missed sleep (18%), menstruation (12%), and overexertion (11%). Diet, missed medications, and fever or infections were reported by less than 10 percent of participants. While missed medications account for a small percentage of triggers, participants age 25 and under are somewhat more likely to report this cause than older individuals.

“The data collected will help researchers better understand epilepsy, while helping people with epilepsy keep a more complete history of their seizures,” says Krauss in an American Academy of Neurology statement. “The app also provides helpful tracking of seizures, prescription medication use and drug side effects — activities that are important in helping people manage their condition.”

The authors conclude that mobile technology offers opportunities to collect clinical data like these in near real time, and provide better insights for patient care. “Our eventual goal,” adds Krauss, “is to be able to use wearable technology to predict an oncoming seizure. This could potentially save lives as well as give people with epilepsy more freedom.”

Krauss and colleague Nathan Crone tell more about EpiWatch and the study in the following video.

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