6 Things to Know about Treating Childhood Epilepsy

From a specialized diet to rapid evaluation, there’s a lot to know about treating childhood epilepsy. We share the latest from experts at The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s.

Parents of a child with epilepsy work hard to find effective, lasting treatments with the hope of decreasing or stopping their child’s seizures altogether. Health care professionals at The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s have the same goal. From expedited care to robust treatments and options for families, the care teams at Comer Children’s are continually advancing effective treatments for children — even helping parents find answers to subtle symptoms that are actually a form of epilepsy.

Here are six things you should know about treating childhood epilepsy from the experts at Comer Children’s:

1. Your child’s epilepsy may not be immediately recognizable

You may believe symptoms of epilepsy to be obvious and unmistakable. But some children with epilepsy can simply appear to daydream. Referred to as “absence seizures,” these seizures begin in both sides of the brain at the same time. They’re often so brief, they are missed during typical well-child visits. Absence seizures are most likely to affect children, and, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, a first clue that a child may be having absence seizures is when they start having trouble in school. You know your child best, and if you are concerned that this may be happening in your family, you can reach out to Comer Children’s New Onset Seizure Clinic for an immediate evaluation.

2. For childhood epilepsy, rapid treatment is important

Immediate evaluation is among the best practices followed by pediatric epilepsy specialists and care teams at Comer Children’s.

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Douglas R. Nordli, Jr., M.D., pediatric epileptologist at UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine

“Ensuring children are properly evaluated so that they receive the appropriate treatment is key,” says Douglas R. Nordli, Jr., M.D., a pediatric epileptologist at Comer Children’s. Dr. Nordli prioritized establishing the New Onset Seizure Clinic where children can be seen rapidly and evaluated by an expert team within 10 days of having their first seizure. For severe cases, this evaluation can even occur within 24 to 48 hours.

3. Diet may make a difference

We’ve all heard about the keto diet, a high-fat, low-carb diet favored by adults who want to lose weight. However, the ketogenic diet was designed first as a treatment for childhood epilepsy.

For several years, Chalongchai Phitsanuwong, M.D., a pediatric neurologist and epileptologist trained in using the ketogenic diet, has prescribed this diet to his patients at Comer Children’s. Along with a team of experts including ketogenic nutritionists, Dr. Phitsanuwong customizes the diet for each child to make sure it has the appropriate amount of calories and nutrition.

Why the ketogenic diet works is not fully understood, but Dr. Phitsanuwong has treated scores of patients who have experienced a marked reduction in their number of seizures. In fact, the diet has been used as a treatment for more than 100 years.

“We do know the diet’s high-fat, low-carbohydrate content causes the production of ketone bodies,” says Dr. Phitsanuwong. “The ketone bodies are believed to have an anti-seizure effect.”

4. There’s no one-size-fits-all keto diet

Optimal growth for children is a top priority at Comer Children’s Pediatric Epilepsy Center. A multidisciplinary team provides a variety of ketogenic diet therapies that range from a classic ketogenic diet to a modified Atkins diet and a medium-chain triglyceride diet.

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Chalongchai Phitsanuwong, M.D., pediatric neurologist and epileptologist at UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine

The expert team includes pediatric epilepsy specialists, specialist ketogenic dietitians, pediatric neurology nurses, pediatric neurologists, a pharmacist and a social worker — and each plays an important role in providing therapy for children with epilepsy.

With the rise in popularity of the keto diet for non-therapeutic uses, it may seem like there is plenty of information to get started, but Dr. Phitsanuwong does not recommend trying the diet on your own.

“Dr. Phitsanuwong cautions parents not to start a child on the medical diet without the specific recommendation and supervision of a neurologist or dietitian,” according to information from Comer Children’s.

5. Where you seek care for your child’s epilepsy matters

“Because their brains are still growing, children are more vulnerable than adults to the harm that uncontrolled seizures can cause,” say the experts at Comer Children’s. It makes sense to seek out experts who champion treatments that are proven to be effective.

“Our experts have success reducing and eliminating seizures in children, often helping children who other physicians have deemed ‘untreatable,’” according to information from Comer Children’s. As a Level 4 epilepsy center, Comer Children’s Pediatric Epilepsy Center has achieved the highest classification granted by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers, and this fact matters.

Comer Children’s Pediatric Epilepsy Center offers effective treatments and therapies that are often not available from community neurologists or even other epilepsy centers.

6. Seek support for your family

While epilepsy requires significant lifestyle adjustments, many children can enjoy happy childhoods with appropriate care. Attending school, playing sports and other regular activities are often possible with some safety precautions.

By working closely with your child’s school, you may develop an individualized education plan that provides accommodations and emergency protocols. Teach friends and caregivers how to respond to a seizure. Also, remind your child to take medication on schedule and assist them in communicating openly about epilepsy, according to their own comfort level.

Finally, consider joining a support group to connect with others facing similar challenges. Stay focused on supporting your child’s overall health and quality of life. With your help — and the support of an expert care team — your child’s future looks brighter.

Expertise brought to you by UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s. Visit ComerChildrens.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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