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At least three-fourths of the children
referred to UCLA’s Pediatric Epilepsy
Surgery Program can be made completely
or nearly seizure-free.
Among children with epilepsy, 60-to-70
percent will have their seizures controlled
on drug treatment.
Frequent seizures from medically
refractory epilepsy are strongly linked to
significant developmental delay that is
generally not reversible, and they also
are associated with premature death.
Targeted Surgery Can
Benefit Children with Medically
The danger of uncontrolled seizures in infants and children over any period of
time — including the likelihood of poor long-term developmental outcomes and
the risk of premature mortality — makes it essential that pediatric patients whose
seizures cannot be controlled by medication are promptly referred to a center that
specializes in pediatric epilepsy. Gary Mathern, MD, director of UCLA’s Pediatric
Epilepsy Surgery Program, notes that not all patients referred to his program are
recommended for surgery — but for those who are, at least three-fourths can be
made completely or nearly seizure-free.
How is epilepsy defined, and what
proportion of epilepsy cases can be
controlled by medication?
Epilepsy is commonly defined as having two or
more unprovoked seizures separated by at least
24 hours. The rate of newly diagnosed seizures
for those under age 15 is about 500 cases per
1-million children per year. Of these, about
70 percent are controlled or nearly controlled by
anti-epilepsy drugs. Of the remaining 30 percent
of children with epilepsy, about half have more
than a seizure per month. About 15 percent of
children with epilepsy are medically refractory,
Gary Mathern, MD
UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-888 (1-800-825-2888)
which is defined as failure of two-to-three
anti-epilepsy drugs and with frequent-enough
seizures that they affect the child’s life. Of
those with medically refractory epilepsy, about
one-third are candidates for epilepsy surgery.
Has drug therapy for epilepsy improved?
There have been anti-epilepsy drugs around since
the 1940s, and there has been an explosion of drugs
that have been approved since the 1990s. The new
drugs have reduced the side effects, but the bottom
line is that the incidence of medically refractory
epilepsy has not changed.