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Can a child outgrow epilepsy?

When I talk with patients and families about a new diagnosis of epilepsy, part of that discussion almost always involves the future. How long will medications be needed? How will we know if or when it is safe to stop medications? Will epilepsy be a life-time condition or concern? Epilepsy can have a spectrum of severity. Some people with epilepsy have only a couple of seizures in a lifetime, whereas others may have multiple seizures every day. Overall, though, the outlook is bright.

Epilepsy most commonly develops during childhood, but can start at any age. Seizures can happen to newborns, or even in rare cases, prior to birth. The good news is that if your child is diagnosed with epilepsy, his or her chances of gaining good seizure control is excellent. 

About two thirds of children with epilepsy will have their seizures well-controlled on either the first or second medication they are prescribed. For kids, there is about a 75 percent likelihood of becoming seizure-free within two years. The chance of becoming seizure-free is best in children who do not have a known cause of epilepsy, do not have a family history of epilepsy and are developmentally normal with a normal neurological exam and EEG.

Once a child becomes seizure-free, sometimes the medication can be stopped. In fact, about half of children diagnosed with epilepsy are eventually able to come off of seizure medications. Once medication is stopped, many kids do very well in the long term. However, sometimes seizures do come back days, months or even several years later. Neurologists can provide some statistical information about the outlook for remaining seizure free off of medication, and will typically do an EEG to help inform that conversation. 

A new diagnosis of epilepsy for your child can be very distressing, but it is important to remember that life will eventually get back to normal. It may not be the same normal you or your family experienced prior to the epilepsy diagnosis, but with enough time, education and support from your physician and your loved ones, it will get better.

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