Neurologic Nuggets of Wisdom for Pediatric Practice

WASHINGTON — Get the back story before rushing to diagnose a seizure disorder in a child, Michael Strunc, MD, said in a presentation at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2023 National Conference.

Dr Michael Strunc

Clinicians should ask parents or caregivers about the child’s behavior before the suspected seizure, whether there were any triggers, and if so, what might they have been, according to Strunc, a child neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Most seizures don’t have triggers,” he said. Rather, patients often become stiff, experience a motor event that builds in intensity, then slows and stops, and finally the patient is sleepy and tired. Clinicians should also find out whether the event had a beginning, middle, and end.

Approximately 0.6% of children younger than 17 years in the United States have active epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Strunc offered a few more tips for diagnosing a child:

  • Ask whether the patient’s eyes were open during the event. If the eyes were closed or squished closed, “it is almost never a seizure,” he said.

  • Find out whether the patient was awake, asleep, and how, if at all, caregivers attempted to stop the event.

  • Ask if the child’s experiences were repeating and predictable, and inquire about a family history of seizures or other events.

  • Inquire about any developmental changes and other changes in the child, such as irritability, regression, or ataxia.

The differential diagnosis for a seizure includes nonepileptic events that occur with and without changes in consciousness or sleep. These events range from breath holding and hyperventilation to night terrors, narcolepsy, migraine, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, he said.

Is It Epilepsy?

Strunc shared several cases of neurologic “events” ranging from simple to severe.

In one case, a 10-month-old infant girl with a potential tonic/staring seizure presented with a history of events that involved getting stuck in a stiff position, usually while sitting in a car seat or highchair, with adducting of legs, redness of face, and “zoned-out” expression. The infant was healthy, smart, and precocious, with no illness, fever, or trauma, but the mother was very concerned mother, Strunc said.

The diagnosis: Self-gratification, which is benign and usually outgrown, although it can become extreme, he said.

By contrast, “absence,” also known as idiopathic generalized epilepsy, presents as brief events of 4 to 10 seconds that may occur up to hundreds of times a day. This type of epilepsy is associated with the sudden onset of impaired consciousness and unresponsiveness. These events end abruptly, and the child may be unaware. Absence is more common in girls. It usually occurs after age 4 and usually remits by about age 12, Strunc said.

However, the onset of absence in patients younger than age 3 is associated with increased odds of neurodevelopmental abnormalities “and probably represents another epilepsy syndrome,” he said.

Absence symptoms may mirror those of children who are simply daydreamers, Strunc noted. One way to confirm absence is by provoking hyperventilation, which will bring on an episode of absence if present, he said. EEGs provide evidence as well.

Acute ataxia in children has a wide differential that sends kids and families to the pediatrician or emergency department, Strunc said. Acute cerebellar ataxia is characterized by abrupt and symmetric symptoms, with no mental status changes, no fever, no meningitis, and no headache. A wide, unstable gait is a distinguishing feature, Strunc said.

However, other causes of acute ataxia should be ruled out, including toxic ingestion, tick paralysis, central nervous system infections, vascular conditions, and genetic conditions.

Don’t Miss Those Ticks

Especially during periods when kids are outdoors, clinicians should consider a tick bite as a source of ataxia and neurologic symptoms in children, Strunc emphasized. Tick paralysis notably resembles many symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome (acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy).

Strunc described a case involving a 5-year-old girl who developed sudden problems with gait. The problems worsened quickly and prompted an emergency department visit.

The girl had an unremarkable history, she had not experienced mental status changes, her strength was normal, and she had just returned from a Girl Scouts trip. The patient was presumed to have Guillain-Barré. IVIG was initiated when an emergency nurse found a tick on her scalp. The tick was removed, and the patient left the hospital within 24 hours.

Children with tick paralysis are usually symptomatic after 5 to 7 days with the tick attached, Strunc said. They recover within a day after tick removal.

Overall, actual seizures are less common than other neurologic events in children, according to Strunc. Details on history, lack or presence of neurologic feature, and normal child development can help guide evaluation.

Take advantage of videos, he emphasized, as many parents and caregivers record a child’s neurologic events.

“Ataxia is scary, but exam and associated findings will help you with etiology,” he said.

Strunc has received research support from Jazz and Harmony and has served on the speakers’ bureau for Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Harmony Biosciences, and Avadel unrelated to his presentation.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2023 National Conference: Presented October 21, 2023.

Heidi Splete is a medical journalist.

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, X, Instagram, and YouTube.

Source: Read Full Article