A diagnosis of epilepsy in childhood does not necessarily mean a life sentence of limitations: many children recover spontaneously and others manage to control the disease with drugs. It is true, however, that many prejudices about this disease remain alive.
Epilepsy, a disease that is still scary
Epilepsy is a disease that is still scary, not least because it is still surrounded by prejudice and discrimination.
To the point that patients and their families often prefer to keep it hidden. And yet in most cases this disease is of interest from one person in every 100 to one in every 200 (WHO estimates) – can be safely kept under control and allows a practically normal life. AND in many cases it passes by itself when the child reaches puberty.
In this article
What is epilepsy
It’s about a brain disease characterized by the periodic repetition of seizures or absence: the so-called epileptic seizures. In the crisis of absence, the child seems absent or distracted for a few seconds.
“Epileptic seizures are an expression of abnormalities in the electrical activity of neurons, the brain cells, “he explains Federico Vigevano, Head of the Neurology Unit of the Bambin Gesù Pediatric Hospital in Rome. “Neurons communicate with each other through electrical discharges, but it can happen that a more or less extended group of neurons discharges in an abnormal, excessive way: that’s a epileptic focus, which gives rise to crises “.
But be careful: in order to speak of epilepsy, epileptic seizures must be frequent and repeated.
An isolated seizure or some sporadic seizure does not mean epilepsy. This is the case with febrile seizures, which may look similar to the seizures of epilepsy but have nothing to do with this disease.
How it manifests itself
Manifestations of the disease vary depending on how large the outbreak is and its location in the brain architecture.
For example, if the area of the brain that controls the movements of the right hand is involved, the seizure will be characterized by abnormal and involuntary movements of this hand. If the neurons involved in the control of eye movements discharge “badly”, seizures with lateral deviation of the eyes may occur.
The classic epileptic seizures
If, on the other hand, the electrical discharges are generalized, that is, they affect the whole brain, we will have them classic seizures, in which the patient loses consciousness, falls to the ground, stiffens, with the limbs jerking. They are the so-called crises tonic-clonic, which typically last 2-3 minutes maximum.
Absences and nocturnal epilepsy
Then there is a mild form of the disease, what was once called “little bad”, which manifests itself with the so-called absences: very short suspensions of consciousness, as if for a few seconds – usually about ten – the affected person gets distracted and pulls himself out of the context in which he finds himself. It’s about a benign form, which tends to heal with pubertal development, and which does not affect the patient’s quality of life. “Ditto for the forms they involve light nocturnal seizures, and which resolve with age “adds Vigevano.
The most severe forms, with intense and frequent crises, often drug resistant, on the other hand, they are disabling, because they reduce the possibility of a completely normal life. Additionally, these forms can associate with a delay in the child’s cognitive and motor development, because they decrease the ability to concentrate and attention. “An effect aggravated by the drugs themselves, which are mainly sedatives,” says the neurologist.
How the diagnosis is made
To make the diagnosis, as well as on the
specialists are based
- onelectroencephalogram, a test that records the electrical activity of the brain.
CT scan, magnetic resonance and genetic studies they can be used to better define the causes of the disease.
What does epilepsy depend on? The causes
- genetic predispositions
- more or less extensive brain lesions
“About one in three cases is due to genetic predispositions“explains Vigevano.” So in the same family you can find more people with the same problem “.
In two out of three cases the responsibility lies with more or less extensive brain lesions, which may depend on various circumstances:
“It must be said that it is not always possible to identify the lesion responsible for the disease” Vigevano points out.
But does it heal?
A diagnosis of epilepsy is not necessarily “forever”. There are forms that heal spontaneously: “It happens in 20-25% of cases, especially those of genetic origin and in general we know already from the moment of diagnosis how things will go in …