Is fasting dangerous for a person with epilepsy?

16th April 2019

Next month marks the start of Ramadan, which begins on the 5th of May and ends on the 4th of June. During this time, Muslim’s from around the world fast for a month to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran. Those observing the tradition will abstain from food and drink during the hours that fall between dawn and sunset.

However, it’s not just for religious reasons that people fast. Many people will also fast for dietary and health reasons. It’s also quite common to do so before an operation where anaesthetic will be used.

Why is it dangerous?

Recent research has found that people who have epilepsy and fast are more at risk of having seizures. The study focused solely on those who were fasting during Ramadan. At present, it’s not 100% clear why this is, however, there are a number of theories that are most likely.

Sleep disturbances

As we have discussed in previous blog posts, sleep and epilepsy are quite commonly linked with some people having the majority of their seizures whilst asleep. Fasting during Ramadan, for example, means having to wake up early to eat before dawn and perhaps going to sleep later after sunset.

Changes in the way epilepsy medication are taken

Some epilepsy medications need to be taken on an empty stomach, however, some medications must be taken with food. This can clearly present a problem for someone who is fasting should their medication require to be taken with food.

Stress and tiredness

Going without food for long periods of time can often lead to people becoming irritated and tired as their body struggles for energy. It’s quite commonly known that with many types of epilepsy a person is most at risk of a seizure when they are tired.

What to do if you are planning on fasting…

Whether it’s for religious or dietary reasons, it’s important to know the potential risks associated with fasting. We would advise that you consult with your doctor or specialist dietician prior to fasting. Medical advice is paramount in minimising the risk of fasting and the possible change in seizure frequency.

For those who are fasting for religious reasons, this can be particularly worrying as there is a strong desire to complete religious duties. However, exceptions are often made when a person’s health is at risk, which could certainly be the case for those with epilepsy.

Finally, if you are fasting before an operation for which you require anaesthetic we would recommend you discuss this with the referring consultant or your epilepsy specialist to discuss your concerns.

National Epilepsy Training can help…

For more information on fasting and epilepsy, please don’t hesitate to get in contact, please call us on 01706 373075 or email admin@nationalepilepsytraining.co.uk.