March 25, 2011 -- Children with epilepsy are at increased risk of having psychiatric problems, with girls more likely to exhibit symptoms linked to depression and anxiety and boys more likely to have symptoms of ADHD and difficulty getting along with peers, new research suggests.
In the study, epilepsy was a stronger risk factor for psychiatric problems than poverty, living with a single parent, or having another chronic disease. The study examined children with and without epilepsy living in Norway.
Slightly more than one in three epileptic children in the study exhibited psychiatric symptoms, compared to about one in five children without epilepsy.
The prevalence of depression, anxiety, symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and other psychiatric symptoms among children with epilepsy was similar to that reported by other researchers, but the study is among the first to explore the impact of gender on symptoms.
“Boys and girls with epilepsy had more of these issues, but girls seemed to be more negatively affected by epilepsy than boys,” neurologist Kristin A. Alfstad, MD, of Oslo University’s National Center for Epilepsy, tells WebMD.
Boys Had More Symptoms Overall
Alfstad and colleagues analyzed data from a 2002 health study in which parents provided detailed information on their school-aged children’s health through questionnaires.
A total of 110 of the 14,700 children included in the survey between the ages of 8 and 13 had a diagnosis of epilepsy; 38% of these children exhibited symptoms of depression, anxiety, symptoms of ADHD, and other psychiatric issues, compared to 17% of children without epilepsy.
Parents of girls with epilepsy were more likely to report that their daughters showed symptoms of depression and anxiety. Parents of boys reported more problems with attention and hyperactivity and difficulty making or getting along with friends.
Boys with and without epilepsy had more psychiatric symptoms than did girls, but having epilepsy was a much stronger risk factor for such symptoms among girls than boys.
The study appears online today in the journal Epilepsia.
Depression More Troubling Than Seizures
Selim R. Benbadis, MD, says neurologists and pediatricians should screen their young patients with epilepsy for depression, but he adds that this is not standard practice.
Benbadis directs the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the University of South Florida School of Medicine in Tampa.
“When we see depression in kids who have seizures, it is very often the depression that most negatively affects quality of life,” he tells WebMD.
Benbadis says psychiatric symptoms are most common among children who do not respond to epilepsy drugs.
He adds that some of the older epilepsy medications can cause psychiatric symptoms or exacerbate them.
“When there is co-morbid depression it is a good idea to revisit the treatments patients are on,” he says.