April 22, 2019

Epilepsy: More than seizures

Having epilepsy on its own can seem like a tall mountain to climb for any child, but kids with epilepsy often struggle with other things like sleep, diet and learning.

Sleep and epilepsy

Sleep is an essential part of managing epilepsy and getting too much or too little sleep can have a significant effect on children with epilepsy. Eight to 10 hours of quality sleep per night and sticking with a sleep routine is a recommended way to help prevent seizures.

Avoiding exercise 4 hours before bedtime, electronic devices for one hour before bedtime and skipping naps can help children get those 8-10 hours of "Zzzzz.' If you believe medications are interfering with your child's sleep, make sure you talk to their doctor.

Diet and epilepsy

What you eat is just as important as getting a full night's rest when it comes to managing epileptic seizures. Our population as a whole should stay hydrated and eat healthy, but these rules can be especially helpful to children with epilepsy. Doctors might suggest diet therapies, if medications aren't working well, to control the frequency or intensity of seizures. A high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet or a modified Atkins diet can be helpful when monitored by a physician and nutritionist.

ADHD and epilepsy

Studies show that patients with epilepsy have a high risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD affects up to four out of 10 children with epilepsy. Unfortunately, the reason for this higher risk remains largely a mystery.

Individuals with epilepsy might find planning, organizing and controlling impulsivity difficult, even if they do not suffer additionally from ADHD. The combination of both conditions can often result in problems at school. A treatment plan to help your child can be created with input from your physician's office and professionals well-versed in epilepsy, behavior and thinking. This plan could include skills training, medication, school support and accommodations and/or behavioral or cognitive behavioral therapy. Each individual is unique, and your doctor and child's educators can help find a plan that works for your family and will result in success for all involved.

As the parent of a child or teen with epilepsy, you might never know week to week which pizza topping will make them smile or which band is the coolest, but if you keep coming back to a solid routine with their sleep, diet and school you'll be setting them up for success every day.

The UW Health Kids Comprehensive Pediatric Epilepsy Program at American Family Children's Hospital specializes in the care of children who have experienced their first seizure to those whose epilepsy has progressed to a more difficult stage.

Our team consists of epileptologists, neuropsychologists, neuroradiologists, epilepsy neurosurgeons, registered dietitians, epilepsy nurses and EEG technologists. Our goal is to help children with epilepsy live active, productive lives. We pride ourselves in being responsive to the needs of our patients and families.