Epilepsy Awareness Month


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This article was first published on cerebralpalsyguidance.com

Around half of all children with cerebral palsy also have epilepsy. Both cerebral palsy and epilepsy are neurological disorders that often coincide with one another.

What is Epilepsy?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, epilepsy encompasses a “spectrum of brain disorders” in which the pattern of normal neuronal activity is disrupted. When the neuronal activity is disturbed, convulsions and muscles spasms result (known as seizures). During these episodes, some children will experience loss of consciousness. As the fourth most common neurological disorder in the world, epilepsy can affect anyone at any age. Around  100,000 people develop epilepsy each year.

There are a number of different types of seizures, and people with epilepsy experience one or several of the various different types. It’s important to note that there is a difference in epilepsy and seizures. Someone who has  one seizure only, generally does not have epilepsy. Epilepsy is marked by recurrent seizures. If someone has at least two or more seizures, they’re considered epileptic.

For more information on seizures, including different types and subtypes, visit our article, Cerebral Palsy and Seizures.

Epilepsy Causes

In around half of epilepsy cases, there’s no known cause.In  other instances, epilepsy can be caused by a number of factors, including:

Prenatal Injuries

During infancy, an infant’s brain is highly susceptible to damage, which can occur when the mother isn’t correctly diagnosed and treated for infections, maternal smoking and drinking, oxygen deficiencies, and poor nutrition.

Developmental Disorders 

As mentioned earlier, cerebral palsy and epilepsy often coincide. Other developmental disorders that can be associated with epilepsy include autism and neurofibromatosis.

Head Trauma

Head trauma, such as birth injuries, car accidents, or any accident in which the head experiences traumatic damage can lead to epilepsy.

Diseases

A number of infectious diseases, such as viral encephalitis and meningitis, can lead to epilepsy.

Genetic Factors 

Researchers indicate that specific types of recurrent seizures are linked to genetics. However, genes are usually only part of the reason for epilepsy causes. In other words, there are typically other causes tied into genetic factors. Generalized seizures are the most common type connected to genetic causes.

Oxygen Loss 

Cerebral palsy is caused by lack of oxygen to the brain before, during, or after birth, which cause seizures in babies.

Epilepsy Symptoms

The main symptom of epilepsy is recurring seizures, which are marked by:

  • Uncontrollable, jerking body movements, usually in the arms and legs
  • Loss of awareness
  • Confused, spacey feeling
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty talking
  • Rigid, tense muscles
  • Skin may look pale or flushed
  • Racing heart
  • Dilate pupils
  • Sweating
  • Tongue biting
  • Tremors

Keep in mind that not every child will experience all of the aforementioned symptoms.

Epilepsy Treatment

Mayo Clinic staff report that physicians usually start epilepsy treatment through medication. However, since each child is different, finding the correct medication, along with the right dosage, can be an arduous process. Doctors usually prescribe the first medication at a low dosage to see how effective it is, and how many side effects the child experiences. Most epilepsy medications come along with side effects, which can include dizziness, weight gain, fatigue, and more, depending on which medication is prescribed.

Around half of the people who begin medication find success with this method of treatment, and with continued use, will become seizure-free. If medications fail to work, physicians may recommend vagus nerve stimulation, a type of treatment that involves placing a vagus nerve stimulator device into the patient’s chest. The device sends electrical energy to the brain and the vagus nerve, which reduces seizure activity between 20%-40%.

The ketogenic diet is another treatment option which is especially beneficial to children. It’s a strict diet, however, that entails substantially lowering carbohydrates while increasing fats. The body uses fats for energy, as opposed to carbohydrates.

You’ll need to work closely with your physician, as well as a dietitian or nutritional counselor,  if you decided to have your child try the ketogenic diet, as some children may experience adverse side effects, including dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. However, with proper medical supervision, the side effects are usually rare. Around 10% to 15% of children who go on the ketogenic diet are seizure-free within a year, although it’s unclear exactly how the diet prevents seizures.

If all other treatments have been exhausted, surgery may be the next option. Surgery is generally only performed when doctors determine that the seizures occur in a specific part of the brain that doesn’t hinder vision, speech, hearing, or motor function. During surgery, the part of the brain that’s causing seizures is removed.

Studies on Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy

According to a scientific study published the European Journal of Epilepsy, spastic tetraplegia and spastic diplegia are the most common types of cerebral palsy associated with epilepsy. Symptoms of epilepsy generally start for children with cerebral palsy during the first year of life, some within the first month after birth.

Epilepsy Prognosis

If children respond well to medicationa, there’s a good chance that they’ll be seizure-free one day, and may be able to discontinue epilepsy medication use. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM) states that long-term survival rates are lowered when traditional treatment options such as medications and surgery fail to work. Accidents from uncontrollable seizures also play into lower survival rate.


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