Even when their seizures are well-controlled, children with epilepsy can still have learning and behavioral disorders that lead to social and educational problems when they’re young adults, a new study finds.
“Frequency and intensity of seizures remain important predictors of how well a child does into adulthood. But, somewhat to our surprise we also found seizures are by no means the sole influencers of social and educational outcomes among adults with childhood epilepsy,” said study lead author Anne Berg.
Berg is a scientist with the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and professor of pediatrics and neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The research included 241 children and teens in Connecticut who were diagnosed with uncomplicated epilepsy from 1993 to 1997. They were followed for an average of 12 years.
Thirty-nine percent of the participants had excellent seizure control, with no seizures one year after diagnosis, the study showed. About 23 percent had good seizure control, with no seizures up to five years after diagnosis. Nearly 30 percent had seizures that came and went but generally responded to medication, and 8 percent had recurrent, drug-resistant seizures, the study found.
As young adults, more than 90 percent of the participants with excellent seizure control were either pursuing a college degree or had full-time or part-time jobs, compared with 60 percent of those with poor seizure control. More than 90 percent of those with good or excellent seizure control had a driver’s license, compared with 60 percent of those with poor seizure control, researchers said.
Those with a history of learning problems were nearly 50 percent more likely to be unemployed, the study revealed.
Regardless of seizure control, participants with a history of emotional, behavioral or psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were 60 percent less likely to complete college and 50 percent less likely to be living independently.
Level of seizure control didn’t affect the chances of trouble with the law. Participants with disruptive behavioral disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder, had a nearly three-times increased risk of trouble with the law, regardless of seizure control.
The findings show the need to screen all children with epilepsy for learning problems, regardless of how well their seizures are controlled, the researchers said. Doing so could help prevent problems later in life.
“Physicians caring for those patients should not assume kids are doing fine just because their seizures are under control. Seizures really don’t tell the whole story,” Berg said in a hospital news release.
The findings were published online recently in the journal Pediatrics.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on epilepsy.