Children with neurologic conditions such as epilepsy, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis are at higher risk of developing seizures, according to research published in The Lancet Neurology on Monday.
The research was based on data from a large sample of patients who had been evaluated for epilepsy at four different epilepsy centres in Germany.
It found that children with epilepsy were more likely than their peers to develop seizure-like symptoms, such as uncontrollable shaking or convulsions, compared to children without epilepsy.
Researchers say these seizures are linked to a brain injury that affects the brain’s ability to control movement.
The new study found that the likelihood of having a seizure during a seizure was lower among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), another epilepsy condition that causes a condition known as Asperger syndrome, compared with children with other epilepsy conditions.
The findings suggest that there may be a link between the two conditions and that children may be less able to recognise and respond to the seizures.
The researchers, who analysed the data of over 200 children, say the finding is significant and will help to establish whether the neurological condition can be treated in children.
“This is a significant finding,” said Dr. Peter Schrems, an associate professor of neurology at the University of California, San Diego.
“We have known for a long time that children who have a higher risk for developing seizures are more likely, in general, to have neurological conditions, including ASD.”
Dr Schrens, who led the study, said there was evidence to suggest that ASD may be linked to the development of a brain disorder known as ASDs.
Aspergers syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which the person has difficulty relating to others and may be unable to communicate or think clearly.
Children with ASD are also at higher-risk for having brain injuries that cause damage to their brains and can lead to autism.
Dr Schreys, who is also the author of a study published last month in the journal Neurology, said the findings could help researchers better understand ASD.
“Our research suggests that autism and epilepsy may be closely linked,” he said.
“And the reason we know that is that the brain is connected to the nervous system, and there is evidence that the more damaged a part of the brain, the more it can react to an injury.”
The researchers used a database of more than 20 million records to look at data from the epilepsy clinics, which was linked to hospital records and the children’s birth records.
Children who were diagnosed with ASD were divided into two groups: those with epilepsy and those without.
The data showed that the most common conditions in the epilepsy group were seizures and motor palsy.
The epilepsy group also had a higher rate of seizures.
However, the researchers found that among the children with ASD who were not diagnosed with epilepsy, there was no evidence that they were more susceptible to seizures.
Dr David Ewing, a professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and one of the authors of the new study, described the findings as “a very promising first step” in understanding the link between ASD and epilepsy.
“It’s the first paper that’s come out that shows a link,” he told the BBC.
“So it’s a very promising result.
But the research is not yet conclusive.”
He added that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the impact of epilepsy on seizure frequency and severity, but that the researchers were hoping to learn more.
“The idea that autism is a genetic disorder and that it’s more likely for people with ASD to have seizures is a hypothesis that is a bit far-fetched and not backed up by any solid research, but it is very plausible,” he added.
“There is some evidence that ASD can be caused by genetic abnormalities in the brain.
We don’t yet know all the pathways that might lead to ASD, but the idea that there is a link is not entirely surprising.”
The findings could also help researchers to better understand the neurological conditions of children with a history of epilepsy, such that they might be more at risk for complications such as cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders.
The study found there was a link among children who had ASD, a history and symptoms of epilepsy and a brain scan that showed a lesion that was similar to one in a child with epilepsy.
Dr Ewing said it is important to recognise that the link is “not 100 per cent, but a significant one”.
“The more children that we identify with this condition, the better we can understand how the brain develops in those kids,” he explained.
“That will help us develop treatments that will help these kids.”