WEDNESDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- Many people with autism
also have epilepsy that doesn't respond to treatment, a new study
Researchers looked at the medical records of 127 children and
adults aged 3 to 49 with autism who had had one or more seizures.
The patients had been referred to the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy
Center in New York City over a 20-year period because they had also
been diagnosed with epilepsy or it was suspected they might have
epilepsy, said study lead author Dr. Orrin Devinsky.
About 34 percent of the patients were found to have
treatment-resistant epilepsy, meaning their seizures continued
despite medications. A few also underwent surgery -- vagus nerve
stimulation, in which an electrical device is implanted to
stimulate a nerve that runs near the carotid artery of the
Another 28 percent were seizure-free after treatment.
For the other 39 percent of patients, researchers didn't have
enough information to determine if their seizures were
treatment-resistant or not.
"This highlights that epilepsy is common in autism, and in a large percentage of cases, the epilepsy is treatment-resistant," said Devinksy, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry at NYU Langone School of Medicine and director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.
"Epilepsy is a bad disorder. Recurrent seizures can injure the brain, can cause structural damage to the brain and can be deadly over time," he added.
The findings are published in the May issue of the journal
The researchers found other differences between those who had
treatment-resistant epilepsy and others with autism who'd
Overall, the average age of the first seizure was 8, according
to the study. But the medical records suggest that patients with
treatment-resistant epilepsy tended to have their seizures start
earlier in childhood (about age 6) than those whose epilepsy
responded to treatment (about age 11).
Autistic children with epilepsy also tended to be more impaired
than those without epilepsy. About 54 percent of those with
treatment-resistant epilepsy had motor skills delays, compared to
35 percent of those with treatable epilepsy. Also, those with
treatment-resistant epilepsy had more language delays (72 percent
versus 65 percent), and were somewhat more likely to experience
development regression, the study suggested.
Autism experts have long known that many people with autism also
suffer from epilepsy, said Clara Lajonchere, vice president of
clinical programs for Autism Speaks. Prior research suggests about
30 percent of people with autism also have epilepsy, while new
research suggests the prevalence may even be higher.
A study published in the April 15 issue of the
Journal of Child Neurology found that 39 percent of those
with autism who'd donated brain tissue had epilepsy. "There seems
to be increased mortality in people with autism and epilepsy as
compared to those with autism alone," said Lajonchere, senior
author of that study.
People with autism are more likely than those in the general
population to experience "sudden, unexplained death," she said,
adding that some of those deaths are likely from seizures.
It's not fully understood why seizures can be deadly, Devinksy
said, but it's believed that seizures can interfere with breathing,
brain function and heart rhythms.
Both experts agree that much more needs to be learned about
epilepsy and autism, including possibly screening children
diagnosed with autism for epilepsy.
"They are already dealing with cognitive, social and emotional problems," Devinksy said. "And now you add to it epilepsy. It adds to the overall problem of autism."
U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke has more on autism.
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