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Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - Connection between epilepsy and autism may expand treatment options for epileptics


Connection between epilepsy and autism may expand treatment options for epileptics

By Megdad M. Zaatreh, M.D.

It is estimated that nearly 33 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy. But until recently there had been little clinical research about the connection between the two neurological conditions. Epilepsy is a brain disorder marked by recurring seizures or convulsions. Autism is a neurobehavioral disease that includes impairment in social interaction and language development which often includes rigid, systematic repetitive behaviors. Both conditions can affect patients with varying degrees of severity.

New research has found that adults with epilepsy are more likely to show signs of autism and Asperger syndrome. Up to this point, in many cases, epileptic adults may not have been properly diagnosed or treated for autism symptoms. The connection between the two conditions was the result of a study that showed epileptic seizures short-circuit the neurological function that affects socialization in the brain, which are the same traits seen in autism. These characteristics include impairment of normal social interaction (eye contact, conversation, enjoying the act of sharing with someone else) and tightly regimented or repetitive cycles of behavior.

Shedding new light onto socialization challenges for epileptics

Up to now, the social and behavioral challengers for some people with epilepsy have been under-diagnosed and research has not uncovered any underlying theory to explain them. Without diagnosis, there is no treatment plan. But this new evidence explains that the misfiring of the brain during a seizure may explain the cause of this condition. Not surprisingly, the more frequent the epileptic seizures, the more severely impacted the patient’s socialization issues may be.

These new findings could mean that adults with epilepsy can now benefit from the wide range of autism treatment services available to help address the long-standing socialization issues many epileptic patients have experienced throughout their lives. This offers the possibility of significantly improving epileptics overall quality of life. Up to this point, there have been few services to address these needs.

Recognizing symptoms of epilepsy in infants

The highest incidence of epilepsy occurs during the first year of life, when many new parents can overlook or misinterpret physical symptoms. 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. During early childhood development, infants often exhibit a variety of erratic physical movements and mannerisms which may not cause immediate concern. But babies or children presenting any of these symptoms should be seen by a doctor immediately:

  • A prolonged staring spell
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Lack of response or awareness to verbal stimulation
  • Shaking, loss of balance or smacking of the lips

Specialty care is available for children with epilepsy

If you suspect your child may have experienced a seizure, contact your pediatrician immediately for an evaluation. While the seizure is frightening for parents and caregivers, it is important to observe and record the duration of the episode as well as the symptoms the child exhibited before and after the episode. Share this valuable information with your doctor. Today, some hospitals offer specialized epilepsy treatment programs exclusively for pediatric patients. The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at CentraState 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 diagnosis and treatment services for infants, children, adolescents and adults living with epilepsy. For more information, call (866) CENTRA7.

Dr. Megdad M. Zaatreh is a board-certified epileptologist and serves as 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.