About six-in-1,000 children have a condition that causes seizures, yet too often children are not evaluated in a timely manner, delaying treatment, with potentially serious consequences, says UCLA pediatric epileptologist Jason T. Lerner, MD, director of the Adolescent Epilepsy Center at UCLA.
A seizure is caused by abnormal activity in the brain that can cause a variety of signs and symptoms, including sudden jerking motions and a brief loss of awareness or consciousness. Children who are not treated or whose seizures are not well-controlled are at risk for accidents. “The seizures themselves can cause secondary problems,” Dr. Lerner says. “Having a seizure while crossing a street or swimming can be very dangerous.”
And while most seizures alone do not cause brain damage, they often can cause children to fall behind in school if they are not controlled. “Early recognition and diagnosis of seizures have gotten better, but there still are situations where seizures are going on for quite some time before children are adequately treated,” Dr. Lerner says. “Studies have found that having seizures under control correlates with a better prognosis.”
At the UCLA Pediatric Epilepsy Program, Dr. Lerner and seven other pediatric epileptologists — experts specifically trained in the field — are on staff to treat every type of seizure condition, from common and relatively mild disorders to challenging cases that require surgery. Initial evaluations consist of a physical examination, history and an EEG test to study brain activity.
Childhood seizures can be treated with medications, diet and surgery. UCLA also sponsors clinical trials to evaluate promising new therapies, including medicinal cannabis. In the most serious cases, surgery to remove or disconnect brain tissue causing the seizures is widely embraced today, Dr. Lerner says.
But sometimes children are prescribed numerous medications unsuccessfully before surgery is considered. “We have kids failing four or five medications over two or more years before they come to us,” he says. “If a child has failed two medications, parents need to consider surgery. In some cases, surgery is by far the best treatment option.”
If parents are concerned that their child may have epilepsy, Dr. Lerner recommends that they speak with a pediatric epileptologist. “Families need to know when the evaluation and treatment needs to be kicked up to the next level,” he says.