December 5, 2023 9:02 PM

What Is The Relation Between Autism And Epilepsy? Factors And Myths

Autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy are common neurological diseases in childhood, the incidence being 0.5-1 % of the worldwide population. ASD and epilepsy are due to problems in neurodevelopment and have a substantial degree of heritability. At the cellular level, both disorders may be due to excitatory/inhibitory imbalance resulting from neurodevelopmental deficits of multiple origins. 

In this regard, Dr. Rohit Pai, who is a Consultant Neurology, at KMC Hospital, Mangalore said, “There are two peaks of epilepsy in autism, in infancy and around puberty majority being around puberty. People with autism who had intellectual disability had more chances to develop epilepsy. Autism occurs more commonly in males, but epilepsy is slightly more frequent in females on the autistic spectrum.”

Does epilepsy cause autism?

Talking about this, Dr. Rohit Pai said, “Conditions like Landau Kleffner syndrome can develop language disorders that resemble autism, however are not autism. The weight of current evidence is against epilepsy being the cause of autism in the majority of the cases however it is important to treat epilepsy on time in people with autism.”

Dr. Pramod Krishnan, who is the HOD & Consultant – Neurology Epileptology & Sleep Medicine at Manipal Hospital Old Airport Road said, “Epilepsy may occur in any child with ASD but those with certain genetic disorders such as Rett’s syndrome, Fragile X, Angelman, Prader-Willi syndrome, and a few others are more likely to develop epilepsy. These children could have any type of seizure like focal seizures with or without impaired awareness, generalized tonic-clonic seizures, myoclonus, atonic or absence seizures.”

“Difficulty in recognizing seizures in children with ASD is definitely a challenge because of the communication barriers and overlap of symptoms with frequent abnormal behaviors and phenomena like a variety of motor stereotypy. Certain red flags to note for seizures in such children are episodes of staring, unresponsiveness, or inattention (which could be absence seizures or complex partial seizures); stiffening of limbs (which could be tonic seizures); rhythmic shaking or twitching (which could be a focal or generalized motor seizure),” he added.

What are the types of seizures in patients with autism?

“Seizures may be partial (seizure affecting one part of the body), tonic (stiffening of the limbs), generalized tonic-clonic, atonic (generalized loss of tone), or absent (staring episodes), ” said Dr. Rohit Pai, “There are certain epilepsy syndromes like West syndrome that have an increased prevalence of autism.”

Factors that contribute to the increased risk of epilepsy in individuals with autism:

Dr. Naveen Kumar, who is a Senior Neurologist, at Kamineni Hospitals, L.B Nagar, Hyderabad said, “Several factors may contribute to the increased risk of epilepsy in individuals with autism. Genetics is believed to play a role, as both conditions have a strong genetic component. Some studies suggest that certain genetic mutations or alterations may be common to both autism and epilepsy. Additionally, abnormalities in brain structure and function, which are often observed in individuals with autism, may predispose them to seizures.”

The onset of epilepsy in individuals with autism can vary widely, with some experiencing seizures during childhood and others developing them later in adolescence or adulthood. The type and severity of seizures can also vary among individuals. It’s important for caregivers, and individuals with autism to be aware of the potential risk of epilepsy and monitor for any signs or symptoms. Early detection and intervention can be crucial in managing epilepsy and improving the overall quality of life for individuals with autism who may be affected by this comorbidity,” he added.

Some Common myths about epilepsy:

Dr. Vijay Sharma, who is the Associate Director & Head– Paediatrics & Paediatric Neurology, at Asian Hospital Faridabad debunked some common myths and provide accurate information about the condition.

Myth 1 – Epilepsy is genetic

Fact – Epilepsy can strike at any age, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or financial status. Anyone can be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lives. While some people are born with this disease, others are diagnosed for no apparent cause.

Myth 2 – If you’ve had a seizure, you have epilepsy

Fact – Not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. Seizures can occur for a variety of reasons, including high temperatures, binge drinking, brain trauma, brain infections and tumours and so on. The patient must have had at least two unprovoked seizures to be diagnosed with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is defined as the proclivity to have recurring seizures that begin in the brain. Epilepsy is usually diagnosed after a person has experienced several seizures.

Myth 3 – People with epilepsy have less intelligence

Fact – On average, epileptic patients appear to have the same IQ as healthy people. Patients’ learning ability will only be impacted if the frequency and severity of seizures increase. People with the illness have the same abilities and intelligence as everyone else.

Some suffer from severe seizures and are unable to work; others are successful and productive in demanding jobs.

Myth 4 – Epilepsy is infectious

Fact – Epilepsy is a neurological illness that does not transmit through interaction with someone who is having seizures. You cannot contact epilepsy from another individual.

Myth 5 – People with epilepsy shouldn’t be in responsible and stressful jobs

Fact – Seizure disorders affect people from all walks of life and at all levels of business, government, the arts, and the professions. We aren’t always aware of them since many people, even today, are afraid to talk about having epilepsy for fear of offending others.

[Disclaimer: The information provided in the article, including treatment suggestions shared by doctors, is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.]

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