The Epilepsy Center

The Pediatric Experience

Epilepsy often is diagnosed during childhood. Slightly less than 50 percent of first seizures occur when the patient is under 9 years of age, and another 30 percent happen before the patient turns 20. While the condition sometimes becomes less severe in adulthood, if and when that will happen is difficult to predict.

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, the question becomes, "What is the best way to manage seizures in a child?" Antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) can, in many cases, control the severity and/or frequency of a child's seizures, but at the same time, can have unwanted side effects-namely, drowsiness. (One of the newer AEDs, lamotrigine, has been reported to control seizures in children but without the sedative side effect.) There is also a risk of developmental dysfunction associated with the early and chronic use of AEDs in children. For those reasons, some parents choose to try a strict, high-fat, low-carbohydrate food plan, the Ketogenic Diet, which has helped reduce seizure activity in some children. In the most severe, unrelenting cases of epilepsy, the seizures do not respond to the drugs or diet, and surgery becomes an option.

Meanwhile, parents and children alike face basic life issues, such as striking a balance between taking measures to ensure the child's physical safety and allowing him or her to have a normal life. Most of the time, unless there is another condition or syndrome present, children with epilepsy develop much the same as other kids. They usually have normal intelligence and go to school. It's important for teachers and classmates to become educated about epilepsy for the child's physical, social, educational, and emotional well being. Low self-esteem and depression are common in people with epilepsy; any behavioral issues should be explored to determine their root cause, i.e., side effects of medication and teasing by other children.