For Parents

Epilepsy Syndromes

Some children with epilepsy appear to be very similar to other children with epilepsy in terms of how old they are when the seizures begin, what type of seizures they have, their electroencephalograph (EEG) findings, response to treatment, the way epilepsy affects them over time, and what their future is likely to be. These children are identified as having a specific epilepsy syndrome. New syndromes are constantly being identified. Some common ones are as follows:

Childhood Syndromes

Childhood absence epilepsy (petit mal epilepsy)

Accounts for 2 – 4 percent of epilepsy in children and begins between ages 3 and 10. Seizures are brief staring spells, associated with a distinctive spike and wave EEG pattern, which tend to occur very frequently. Forty percent of children with this epilepsy syndrome will outgrow it or go into remission by their teenage years.

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Typically begins during teenage years in otherwise healthy children. First symptom is usually a generalized convulsion. These children may also have myoclonic seizures upon awakening, or absence seizures. Their seizures are usually well controlled with medication but are not likely to be outgrown.

Benign rolandic epilepsy (also called benign partial epilepsy of childhood)

Accounts for more than one third of epilepsy beginning in middle childhood between ages 3 and 13. Involves simple partial seizures affecting the face, causing drooling and inability to speak, which may be followed by a convulsion. Seizures typically occur at night. Otherwise, these children are usually normal and healthy. Ninety-five percent of them outgrow their seizures by age 15.

Infantile spasms (West Syndrome)

These are clusters of rapid myoclonic jerks, causing the baby to double up and jerk forward with its arms either bent or extended. The children have a distinctive EEG pattern called hypsarrhythmia. The syndrome is time limited, starting in the first year of life. Many children with infantile spasms have associated developmental delay and may go on to develop other forms of epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Treatment may include steroid hormones, ACTH and antiepileptic drugs.

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome

A difficult-to-treat epilepsy syndrome with mixed seizures including absence seizures; tonic seizures that cause stiffening, often during sleep; drop attacks; convulsive seizures on wakening, and a distinctive EEG pattern. Begins between the ages of 1 and 5. Children often have developmental delay and some mental retardation.

There are also several rare syndromes associated with seizures. These include Rasmussen’s syndrome, with produces seizures arising from one side of the brain, and the Landau-Kleffner syndrome, which causes seizures and loss of speech.