International Epilepsy Day: Recognizing epileptic seizures in children early

staff reporter

International Epilepsy Day: Symptoms of epilepsy in children often go unrecognized as their manifestation can be very different from the popular perception of how an epileptic seizure looks like. This leads to many child patients getting diagnosed at a late stage, by which time their brain development has already been adversely affected, causing life-long cognitive and motor impairment.

On International Epilepsy Day, neurologists from Amrita Hospital, Faridabad, urged more awareness among people, and even doctors, about recognizing epileptic seizures in children early and starting treatment without delay. They also expressed concern about the widespread practice of adolescent women patients of epilepsy not being taken to a doctor for treatment, as parents fear this will harm their daughter’s marriage prospects.

Dr. Pratibha Singhi, Head, Department of Pediatric Neurology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad said, "Late diagnosis of epileptic children is a major area of concern. Their brain is still developing, and recurring seizures at this stage can lead to life-long impairment. Seizures in young children often remain undiagnosed as they do not look like typical seizures, which people think essentially involve involuntary jerking and loss of consciousness. However, this does not necessarily apply to all children who have epilepsy and seizures."

Symptoms of seizures in young patients-

  • Staring and rapid eye blinking
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sudden jerks (which are mistaken as child getting afraid)
  • Going blank and not responding to words
  • Twitching
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Falling suddenly without any cause
  • Nodding head rhythmically
  • Appearing confused or in a haze

People, and even many doctors, are simply not aware that these are also signs of epileptic attack in children, the neurologist explained.

She added, "Seizures and their manifestations differ greatly in young children compared to adults. Childhood epilepsy is extremely important because of the developing brain. If seizures are not taken care of in time, they can cause epileptic encephalopathy, which depresses the child’s development and causes severe cognitive and motor disabilities. So, it’s very important to recognize seizures in children early and start treatment without loss of time. However, even after treatment starts, compliance becomes another issue. For most children whose seizures get controlled, the parents stop their medication, thinking that the child has become fine. People should realize that anti-seizure medication (ASM) should never be stopped or decreased without consulting the doctor, otherwise the child may get bad seizures again."

Dr. Sanjay Pandey, Head, Department of Neurology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad said, "There are many stigmas associated with epilepsy in India. People avoid taking female children, especially adolescents, to a doctor because they think this might impair their marriage prospects. Parents tend not to disclose the epilepsy of their unmarried daughter to anyone. Even when the girl is epileptic and on anti-seizure medication, family members are hesitant to inform the groom’s family about the condition, causing great social and mental stress for the girl and her parents. After marriage, many girls stop taking their medication for fear of being discovered by their husband or in-laws and continue to have seizures. This can have serious consequences, especially during pregnancy when there is a risk of the unborn child also developing neurological disorders due to epileptic attacks of the mother."

He added, "We really need to get the message across that epilepsy is nothing to be ashamed of, and that many people with epilepsy have gone on to achieve great heights in the world. The stigma related to epilepsy needs to go now, so that patients continue to take proper treatment and can live a life without shame."

Unmarried young women not being taken for treatment because that will negatively impact their marriage prospects is another area of concern

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