A pediatric neurologist in Taichung warned of the risk of childhood absence epilepsy, citing the case of a 14-year-old boy who was found staring blankly into space while crossing the road.
The boy was diagnosed with absence epilepsy after an electroencephalogram showed abnormal 3Hz slow waves on both sides of his brain, Everan Hospital pediatric neurologist Chen Chen-nan (陳震南) said.
In cases of absence epilepsy, the brain suddenly “freezes” or “crashes” like a computer, he said.
According to the boy’s mother, ever since he was a child, he would forget things and needed other people to remind him, and she sometimes had to call him several times to get a response.
She had to tell him to do his homework many times before he completed it, and while he was doing his homework, he would often stop to play or stare into space, she said.
Mistaking these symptoms for attention problems, the boy’s mother said she took him to a psychiatrist, after which he was put on attention deficit medication for about a year.
However, the drugs had limited effect, she said.
The onset of absence epilepsy is usually between ages 4 and 10, peaking at 5 to 6-years-old, Chen said, adding that the prevalence of absence seizures among people with epilepsy is about 10 percent.
The boy likely experienced symptoms before the age of 14, but was left undiagnosed, he said, adding that absence seizures are often difficult to detect because they do not involve shaking.
Parents need to pay close attention to their children because seizures are often accompanied by a loss of awareness, he said.
During seizures, if the child is sitting and immediately recovers, then there is no danger; however, if seizures are accompanied by automatism, the situation could pose some risks, he added.
The cause of absence epilepsy is typically genetic, Chen said.
Absence epilepsy is primarily treated by regularly taking anti-seizure drugs and avoiding triggers, such as anger, anxiety, tiredness or stress; setbacks and emotional issues.
In the boy’s case, his absence seizures were most often triggered by poor sleep, Chen said.
After two months of medication, the boy has gone from experiencing more than 10 absence seizures per day to about twice a month, Chen said.
If symptoms do not improve by adulthood, absence epilepsy has a 90 percent chance of developing into more serious types of epilepsy, Chen said.
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