Epilepsy – No Longer a Life Sentence in Many Cases

Epilepsy - no longer a life sentence in many cases.

Parents often feel frightened when they hear that their child had epilepsy. However, anticonvulsant drugs can prevent the occurrence of seizures in 75 percent of epileptic children. In the past, those diagnosed with epilepsy were thought to need lifelong drug treatment to prevent their seizures. The treatments used often had adverse side effects that precluded them from participating in normal social activities. However, new treatments and therapy protocols are available today. Ask your child’s physician about any new options available for treatment.

Not Necessarily a Life Sentence

Today, pediatric physicians encourage children taking anticonvulsant medications, who have not experienced seizures for two years or beyond, to gradually reduce the dosage of medication to zero. Seventy-five percent of these experience indefinite freedom from seizures. Of these, a few have a chance of never having another seizure, while others have a 50 percent chance of having a future epileptic event. Only your child’s physician can determine whether it’s safe to taper off anti-epileptic medication, but if your child has been seizure free for over two years, ask your physician about this option.

Effective Treatment for the Most Common Type of Epilepsy

While childhood epilepsy occurs in many forms, the most common is absence epilepsy. With absence epilepsy, the child exhibits frequent episodes in which he will stop his current activity and stare blankly for 30 seconds or less. He then resumes the activity with no confusion and no recollection of the event. Until recently, physicians were uncertain as to which anti-epilepsy drug worked best to control this type of the disorder. The results of a clinical trial, managed by NIH Childhood Epilepsy Study Group, were released in March 2010. The study revealed that the drugs Zarontin and Depakote, ethosuximide and valproic acid respectively, are significantly more successful in controlling the seizures associated with absence epilepsy than others.

When Anticonvulsant Therapies Fail

Although anticonvulsant therapy can successfully control the seizures of 75 percent of epileptic children, this leaves a significant number of children for whom medication is not effective. These children continue to have several seizures on a daily basis despite medications, or suffer from debilitating side effects from the anticonvulsant drugs. While not new, treatment approaches do exist for these patients. One option involves surgery, which inactivates or removes the area of the brain that causes the seizures. The other requires that the child adhere to a high-fat diet that highly restricts carbohydrates for two years. After two years, the child can begin to gradually add carbohydrates back into his or her diet without the occurrence of seizures. While neither of these approaches is new, they represent valid options when others fail. Your child’s doctor can determine whether he or she is a good candidate for these therapies.

Prognosis for Children With Epilepsy

Children with idiopathic epilepsy, epilepsy of an unknown cause, have a better chance of controlling their seizures with medication and going into remission as they approach adulthood. Approximately 40 percent of those with absence and benign epilepsy types outgrow the disorder. Even those with more severe classifications of epilepsy, which they are unlikely to outgrow, can often live active, normal lives with consistent and appropriate treatments.

Researchers and scientists regularly conduct clinical trials investigating new therapies and treatments for both children and adults with epilepsy. These include pharmacological treatments as well as investigations into possible environmental and genetic causes of the various classifications of epilepsy.

A Parent’s Role in Seizure Management

Parents play a significant role in helping their epileptic child attain success in controlling seizures. Certainly this involves making certain medications are taken on schedule and in prescribed amounts. But parents must also provide moral and emotional support for their epileptic child. They can achieve this by educating the child about the disorder and helping him participate in appropriate social and physical activities to promote a feeling of normalcy and belonging.

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  1. #1 by Sam on May 20, 2011 - 6:29 PM

    True, and this is great to read about. But Depakote has been linked to birth defects so I would talk with your doc before rushing into taking it. Like you mentioned, there are other drugs that are very effective.

    • #2 by Samantha Gluck on May 20, 2011 - 11:24 PM

      Thanks for stopping by. i have a close friend whose son has a particularly serious form of epilepsy and they tried Depakote. It only made things worse. But, I’ve talked to others for whom it has offered much needed relief. Regarding the possible birth defect issue, that sort of thing would, obviously, not show up until the person had children; this is a very serious matter and one that parents and adults alike must research and discuss with their physicians before moving forward with this strong medication.