Children Who Are Newly Diagnosed with Epilepsy at Risk for Cognitive Problems

September 2, 2009

A new study in the journal Neurology has found that children who have normal IQs before experiencing their first seizure may also experience problems with language, memory, learning, and other cognitive skills.

A new study in the journal Neurology has found that children who have normal IQs before experiencing their first seizure may also experience problems with language, memory, learning, and other cognitive skills. The study findings are important, said lead author Philip Fastenau, PhD, Professor of Neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the Neurological Institute of University Hospitals in Cleveland, because they highlight “the importance of testing children with epilepsy for possible cognitive problems soon after they are diagnosed with epilepsy in order to avoid these issues affecting them later in life, especially if they have additional risk factors.”

The study included 282 school aged children who had an IQ of at least 70 and had experienced their first seizure within the previous three months. These children were then compared to 147 of their siblings who had never had a seizure. Researchers looked at “whether the children with seizures also had other risk factors associated with cognitive problems, including multiple seizures, use of epilepsy drugs, or signs of epilepsy on early tests of brain waves.” They found that “27 percent showed cognitive difficulties at or near the time of the first seizure and 40 percent of children who had additional risk factors showed signs of cognitive problems,” and that “a child with all four risk factors was three times more likely to experience cognitive problems by the first clinic visit compared to children who were seizure-free.”

In addition, researchers noted that children who took drugs for their epilepsy had more difficultly than children who were not on drugs when it came to processing speed, language, verbal memory, and learning. “Surprisingly, our study also found academic achievement in these children was unaffected around the time of the first visit about three months after the first seizure in this study, suggesting there is a window early in epilepsy for intervention to avoid hurting a child's performance at school,” added Fastenau.

To read an article on this study, which was supported by the National Institutes of health, click here.

To read the abstract, click here.