2013-04-04 / Front Page

Early diagnosis of pediatric epilepsy is key to preserving optimal brain function

By Megdad M. Zaatreh M.D.

Seizure and epilepsy are words that are often used interchangeably and both are frequently misunderstood. A seizure is an action that may or may not occur again; epilepsy, on the other hand, is a medical condition where multiple seizures take place over a period of time. Infants and toddlers who suffer from epilepsy experience repeated seizures, with the frequency varying from patient to patient. Most of the time, these episodes can be avoided or lessened with medication. It is imperative for these children to receive prompt medical assessment because with early and accurate diagnosis, most pediatric cases can be successfully controlled and some cases can eventually be cured. In the most severe situations, surgery can also be a successful treatment solution.

The onset of epilepsy is most common during early childhood and after age 65. Each year 150,000 children and adolescents in the United States will have a newly occurring single seizure and 30,000 will be diagnosed with epilepsy after subsequent seizures occur.The highest incidence of epilepsy is during the first year of life, which is why new parents can often miss or misinterpret physical symptoms. Common misconceptions As a specialist in pediatric epilepsy, I’ve encountered frequent misinformation about this condition and the children who live with it. Let me dispel the most common misconceptions:A large percentage of patients have normal IQ scores, some even above normal intelligence. The majority of children will develop normal motor skills, show positive progress in school and maintain normal social relationships. Unlike other chronic diseases, many children with epilepsy will eventually outgrow the condition. It has been known for some time that prolonged seizures can injure the brain; more recently, we learned that even short seizures, if frequent or repetitive, can harm the brain as well.This is why early diagnosis and treatment is so critical.

Symptoms in infants and children

Epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in brain cells and seizures can affect any process the brain coordinates. During development, infants often exhibit a variety of physical movements and mannerisms that may not cause immediate concern.As a result, parents and caregivers can mistake a seizure for typical baby behavior. In most cases, a child with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so symptoms will be similar from episode to episode such as:

 a staring spell

 uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs

 lack of response to verbal stimulation

 shaking, falling or smacking of the lips

Specialty care for children with epilepsy

If you suspect that your child may have experienced even one seizure, contact your pediatrician immediately for an evaluation.Take notes about the duration and symptoms your child exhibited and share this with your doctor. Failure to properly diagnose epilepsy early on can lead to learning and speech disabilities. Today, some hospitals offer specialized epilepsy treatment programs exclusively for infants and children, including The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at CentraState which features state-of the art technology and a staff of experienced pediatric epileptologists, neurologists, registered nurses and technologists. The center provides a full spectrum of care to infants, children, adolescents and adults living with epilepsy. For more information, call 866-CENTRA7.

Dr. Megdad M. Zaatreh is a board-certified and fellowshiptrained epileptologist and medical director of The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. He can be reached at the Epilepsy and Neurology Group by calling 732-414- 8585.

Return to top