Afraid Your Child Might Have Epilepsy?
Epilepsy, she explains, is not a true disease, but rather the chronic symptom of an underlying, little-understood brain disorder. "Essentially, a part of the brain creates abnormal activity that manifests as a seizure," says Baram, professor of neurological sciences, pediatrics, and anatomy and neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine.
Although epilepsy has no cure, several medications are available to control the seizures. But parents and doctors should weigh the pros and cons carefully before giving such medication, says Shinnar, because "all drugs that suppress abnormal brain activity will also interfere to some degree with normal brain activity."
For some kids, he says, "having another seizure may not be worse than being on daily medication."
That's true, says Baram, if the risk of a future seizure is only 50%.
"But what if 5-year-old Johnny has that seizure while crossing the street unsupervised or taking a bath?" she says. "If a child has two seizures within 6 months, I'd tell the parent that the likelihood is very high that the child will have another." And while seizures early in life do not hurt the brain, she says, "they can be really, really scary."
But Shinnar feels that kids run a relatively low risk of being seriously injured during a seizure and should probably stay off medication unless it is absolutely necessary. Plus, he tells WebMD, "70% of kids with epilepsy who do not have mental retardation or cerebral palsy will eventually outgrow their seizures with or without treatment."
This portion of the ongoing study looked specifically at seizures, says Shinnar. His team is now assessing how these children have done in school, at work, in marriage, and in life in general. "We want to see the long-term impact on life," he says. "That's the next phase of research."
The paper appears in the August issue of Annals of Neurology.