Here is what parents need to know about childhood brain development when seeking the best pediatric epilepsy treatment.
Learning that your child or early teen has been diagnosed with epilepsy can be overwhelming.
Undoubtedly you have countless questions about treatment options and the long-term prognosis. Understanding how a child’s brain develops is a key first step in helping you decide the best to way manage your child’s course of care and avoid possible learning and developmental delays down the road.
How a Child’s Brain Responds to Seizures
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, about 300,000 American children under the age of 14 have epilepsy. Each year one-third of the 150,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States will be children and adolescents under the age of 18.
It’s important to note that when it comes to epilepsy and brain development, children should not be viewed as small adults. Research has found that there are clear and important differences between how epilepsy affects a developing brain and one that is fully developed.
Although more susceptible to seizures, a child’s brain is often less vulnerable than a mature brain to neuron damage and brain cell death. Early seizure onset can allow the brain to redistribute brain functions to new areas, which can lead to fewer deficits when surgery is performed.
In meeting with your doctor or specialist, he or she may present you with different alternatives including specialized diets, medications, medical devices, or surgery. Based on the anatomy of a child’s brain, surgery may sometimes be the best treatment option.
Findings in one study with both adult and pediatric surgical seizure patients showed that the children recovered to their pre-surgery baseline after one year, while the adult patients did not. The fast recovery in pediatric patients can be attributable in part to the adaptability of the still forming brain.
Another study featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association saw seizure-free results in 73 percent of the control group that received surgery, while no participants in the strictly medication group were seizure-free in the subsequent two years.
Acting Promptly After Diagnosis
It’s important to act promptly once your child is diagnosed with epilepsy. Delays in care may have important consequences.
A child’s brain is going through a period of rapid growth. A seizure can slow down or accelerate many developmental processes that are necessary for correct brain formation.
While a developing brain can be less vulnerable to seizures, epilepsy can still cause irreversible changes. In adults, epilepsy can potentially interfere with the brain’s previously acquired functions. In a child, seizures can interfere with how the brain develops and forms synapses. A child can also become more susceptible to future seizures.
Unfortunately, children with epilepsy don’t always get the prompt attention they need. Based on AEI’s internal research interviewing numerous caregivers treating children with epilepsy, we found that it took, on average, nearly 5 years for a child to see an epileptologist and receive the appropriate level of care.
In caring for pediatric patients, the American Epilepsy Institute is strongly committed to early detection and shortening treatment timelines. This approach greatly increases your child’s ability to avoid falling behind and allows them to progress on the developmental continuum, acquire new skills as an adult, and most importantly live a rich, fulfilling life.
To establish an appropriate timeline and understand your treatment options, we encourage you to confer with your child’s physician or epileptologist.
If you have further questions, please reach out to the American Epilepsy Institute. If you would like to help us improve pediatric epilepsy care by sharing your experience, please click here to take our survey.
Note: The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.