Cerebral malaria as a risk factor for the development of epilepsy and other long-term neurological conditions: a meta-analysis

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Cerebral malaria (CM) is the most common and severe acute neurological manifestation of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. Children living in malaria-endemic areas of sub-Saharan Africa are at the highest risk of developing CM, and the long-term effect of CM on neurological function is uncertain. We conducted a meta-analysis to quantitatively assess the association between CM and development of long-term neurological impairment. We performed a systematic search through PubMed (including MEDLINE; 1946 to December 2014) and EMBASE (1974 to January 2015) to identify relevant articles. Eligible studies assessed the association between CM and neurological sequelae and were included if they met the criteria allowing a complete extraction of data. Eight studies were included in the final analysis, and in total, 2005 individuals were analysed (cases: n=842, controls: n=1163), most of whom were children. CM was associated with an increased risk of epilepsy (OR 4.68, 95% CI: 2.52–8.70), an increased risk of intelligence quotient (IQ) impairment (OR 4.72, 95% CI: 0.78–28.49), an increased risk of neurodisabilities (OR 16.16, 95% CI: 1.34–195.45), and an increased risk of behavioural disorder (OR 8.47, 95% CI: 2.75–26.04). Our findings suggest that children who survive CM are at increased risk of long-term neurological adverse outcome, including epilepsy. This may present a major public health problem in terms of education and development in malaria-endemic areas. Measures to avoid neurological morbidity are warranted.

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