July 10, 2021

Challenges Faced By People With Epilepsy on Ketogenic Diet Therapy and Their Caregivers During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Brazil

Abstract, published in Epilepsy & Behavior

Background: Although ketogenic diet therapy (KDT) is a well-established, nonpharmacologic therapeutic option for patients with pharmacoresistant epilepsy, its availability is still not widespread. The COVID-19 pandemic may have further restricted the access of people with pharmacoresistant epilepsy (PWE) to KDT. Thus, we evaluated the experiences of Brazilian PWE and their caregivers during the first year of the pandemic.

Methods: An online self-assessed survey containing 25 questions was distributed via social media to be answered by PWE treated with KDT or their caregivers through Google Forms from June 2020 to January 2021. Mental health was assessed using the DASS and NDDI-E scales.

Results: Fifty adults (>18 yo), of whom 68% were caregivers, answered the survey. During the pandemic, 40% faced adversities in accessing their usual healthcare professionals and 38% in obtaining anti-seizure medication (ASM). Despite these issues, 66% of those on KDT could comply with their treatment. Those struggling to maintain KDT (34%) named these obstacles mainly: diet costs, social isolation, food availability, and carbohydrate craving due to anxiety or stress. An increase in seizure frequency was observed in 26% of participants, positively associated with difficulties in obtaining ASM [X2 (1, N = 48) = 6.55; p = 0.01], but not with KDT compliance issues.

Conclusions: People with pharmacoresistant epilepsy and undergoing ketogenic diet therapy, as well as their caregivers, faced additional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only difficulties in accessing healthcare and ketogenic diet therapy maintenance but also on seizure control and mental health.

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