Saturday, 14 January 2012

Epilepsy & Behaviour

Chrissy aged 10, with her chocolatey sister, Alex, 6

Since Chrissy's Topiramate has been swapped with Pregabalin, she's had two clusters of night-time seizures, one requiring rectal Diazepam. This is Chrissy's usual pattern but seizures were infrequent on Topiramate - the price she paid was being over-sedated, though not enough to quell her self-injurious outbursts. When her seizures started up again I hoped she'd get a break from her outbursts. They tend to be less severe during seizure cycles but this pattern has got less apparent as she's got older.

The reciprocal relationship between epilepsy and behaviour is recognised among medical professionals. It's like a pressure cooker releasing steam. Chrissy would have a build-up of challenging behaviours then seizures followed by a brief period of calm. When she was little I thought there was even more to it than that, and became convinced there was an epileptic component in the severe self-injurious outbursts. Chrissy's school teachers felt the same, and described the way 'something just came over her' as she sat doing something that she enjoyed. I became increasingly frustrated that health professionals were dismissing these outbursts as purely behavioural - as if they'd cease in a different environment.

When Chrissy was 10 my frustrations boiled over...

She was in Great Ormond Street Hospital for a routine MRI scan. A general anaesthetic was arranged because she wouldn't have co-operated, & she was given a pre-med. It sent her to sleep but she woke up when she was moved from her ward to the scanning room, and exploded into an outburst. She bashed her head repeatedly against the metal bars of her bed and tore at her skin. 'Now at last her neurologist will see one of these & organise investigations to find out what's going on,' I thought. How naive I was!

The hospital nurses were shocked at Chrissy's distress. One nurse, who'd worked in child psychiatry for years, said that she'd seen children with mental health problems in meltdowns before but this went way beyond that. Normally they gave up when they were exhausted but Chrissy appeared to be in the grip of something beyond her control.

The neurologist was called to the ward. He appeared, flanked by junior doctors, took one look at Chrissy, who was thrashing around on the floor by that point, and said: 'That's behaviour.'

As he turned on his heel to walk away, red mist descended & I threw questions at him like darts: 'If it's behavioural then how come she's had these from infancy? Why do they wake her at night? Why are they triggered by general anaesthetics & some medications? Why doesn't any intervention stop them? Why are they self-limiting? Why are they cyclic and worse in late afternoon? (as they were then) What about the strange physical symptoms - complaining about sore eyes, clawing at her face and extremities as if they hurt? What about the reciprocal relationship with the seizures?'

The neurologist insisted: 'What we're seeing now probably isn't the same as those you saw when she was a baby. This doesn't look like any seizure that I've seen. Epileptic episodes don't last as long as this. They're behavioural.'

I stormed off and had a good cry.

When I calmed down and returned to the ward, the neurologist took me into a side room and explained: 'I doubt that what I observed is caused by epileptic activity but I agree that there appears to be a reciprocal relationship between the seizures and behavioural outbursts. We really don't know what they are but behaviour sometimes worsens in children with epilepsy when seizures were well controlled.'

He decided to try a new anticonvulsant - Gabapentin.

Almost immediately Chrissy slept through the night for the first time in weeks. Two days later, the first thing I noticed when she came home from school was her smiley face and pink cheeks. (She looks pale & wretched when she's going through an outburst cycle). I asked her for a kiss. 'Screaming's gone.' she said.

Her teachers reported that she'd been 'brilliant,' amenable and well-behaved at school. I felt ridiculously emotional. Surely it was too early to be Gabapentin? Maybe it was a delayed reaction to all the pre-op sedation & general anaesthetic?

In fact, it was probably Chrissy's emergence from another bad cycle of outbursts but, when she's well, I always feel giddily optimistic that it will last. I rang friends and family to tell them about the change in her. 'Don't count your chickens....' they gently warned me.

Taken from my book: 'Bringing Up a Challenging Child at Home.'

I am a SWAN UK (Syndromes without a Name) blogger


  1. I read your book, 'Bringing Up a Challenging Child at Home' and loved it. You have so much knowledge and experience to share.
    Twenty years ago books were written for parents but today most books are written by parents, straight from the heart. You've walked the walk which means you can talk the talk.
    I don't know how you coped for all those years. It must have been like whistling in the dark. But you got there in the end and your book is a testimony of what you met face on and overcame. I hope you're proud of yourself. :)

  2. Thank you Michelle. You're right - there has been quite a sea-change in these sorts of books, thankfully. Your book, Marie's Voice, was ahead of its time too. There were also lots of dry, clinical textbooks about learning disability & challenging behaviour for professionals. Made our children seem more like scientific subjects for study than human beings. x

  3. Jane, you have such a beautiful daughter, I cannot imagine your feelings when she goes through her terrible seizures & self injuring patches,you are doing a wonderful job, God bless xx

    1. Thank you Yvonne. Your comment has put a big smile on my face. The self-injuring has stopped for now but replaced by seizures it seems. If more antiepileptic meds are added I fear about the effects on Chrissy's behaviour. It's all such a delicate balance but she's in good hands thankfully. xx