Childhood Absence Epilepsy (CAE) is a unique variation of epilepsy. It is expressed by "blank looks" or staring spells in the child suffering from the condition. As the Epilepsy Foundation explains, "Absence seizures look like staring spells during which the child is not aware or responsive. The child's eyes may roll up briefly or the eyes may blink. Some children have repetitive movements like mouth chewing. Each seizure lasts about 10 seconds and ends abruptly."
Usually, once a seizure ends, the child just gets right back to whatever it was they were doing, with most remaining entirely unaware that a seizure has even happened. While that seems harmless, it is important to note that kids may experience as many as 100 such seizures every day. It can occur (most often) during physical activity, meaning they can easily sustain physical injury because of a seizure. The issue usually leads to learning difficulties, problems with attention, memory and concentration. Known as comorbidities, it has been difficult to treat or address such "side effects" of CAE, until a recent study uncovered close links between deficits and CAE seizures.
Know More About CAEs
If you said that CAE seizures sound like "petit mal seizures," you are correct. That is the former name for them, but it has now been updated to the CAE acronym. It is believed that around two to eight percent of people with epilepsy suffer from this variation, which usually appears at around age three to age 11. A large number of children with CAE respond to treatment and the seizures end during adolescence. Unfortunately, 10-15% of kids with the condition may develop additional seizure issues during adolescence.
It is thought to be a genetic or inherited form of epilepsy with many patients having family members with the same issue. Diagnosis begins with a physical exam and often includes an EEG, CT or MRI and special screenings. If diagnosed, most patients are treated with one of several medicines including ethosuximide, valproate, lamotrigine and stronger options if those medications fail to yield results.
This approach to treating the condition can feel a bit like guesswork, but new options are on the horizon. A recent report released by the Physiological Society indicated that "brain activity between seizures informs potential treatment" for CAE. The study revealed that "brain activity is perturbed" between seizures in those with CAE. Using lab studies, it was determined that the abnormal electrical activity during the seizures kept right on going after the seizure ended - even if rectified with medication. This, the study explained, could be a cause for some of the cognitive problems children with the condition suffer. After all, if seizures were ended, but abnormal activities persist, it means that medication is not actually bringing the condition under complete control.
What the findings indicated was the need to do more than address the seizures independently and to find a way of addressing the abnormal brain activity, too. In fact, the team that conducted the study expressed this as their hope, saying, "abnormalities could then be treated in parallel with seizures. This could help treat childhood absence epilepsy patients who experience comorbidities despite successful treatment of seizures."
For parents or caregivers of children dealing with CAE, the outlook for a more effective treatment is positive. These studies are a clear indication that a broader solution, one that overcomes some of the most difficult effects of CAE, is now a reality. Understanding how to align the activity in the brain at all times, reducing or eliminating seizures, while also supporting healthier brain activity is something within reach.
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