All about Abdominal Epilepsy

You have probably never heard of abdominal epilepsy.  This is because this form of epilepsy is one of those incredibly rare conditions.  Worldwide, physicians diagnose less than one child per year with this condition.  This condition is so rare, in fact, that much of the medical community disputes its existence.  In addition, because it is so rare, it is likely not to get diagnosed at all, since doctors do nor really have it on their radars as a real possibility.

Abdominal Epilepsy Defined

Epilepsy, as you no doubt know, is a disease in which the sufferer is prone to bouts of uncontrollable seizures when certain stimulants in the environment provoke an attack.  Abdominal epilepsy is a form of epilepsy where seizures occur in the abdominal cavity.  Because there have been less than 40 cases of this condition identified in the last half century, there is some debate among the epilepsy community as to whether it is a legitimate condition or whether it is actually the side effect of some other condition.

Further complicating matters is that most sufferers of this condition are children.


Sufferers of this form of epilepsy identify a series of symptoms all occurring in the abdominal cavity or as a result of these discomforts.  Typically the child who sufferers from abdominal seizures will complain of a stabbing abdominal pain that takes several minutes to resolve.  However, it is not clear whether the presence of pain is due to the epilepsy or whether it is already present in the child for other non-epilepsy reasons.  Often the child will also become nauseas and even vomit at the time of these episodes. 

The child may also become disoriented during his or her seizures, not quite understanding what is going on; sometimes they might even completely withdraw into themselves, becoming wholly non-communicative.  Further complicating diagnosis is that the symptoms seem not to occur in any discernable pattern, sometimes taking place one way, sometimes in another.

Once the pains have faded, the child will typically feel worn out and sometimes even nod off.

On top of their abdominal seizures, the child will typically also have more traditional seizures, having what the science community used to call “grand mal” seizures.  These body wide seizures are now termed tonic-clonic seizures.

Determining When Abdominal Epilepsy May Be Present

Because this form of epilepsy is so rare and the symptoms are so similar to other symptoms for other gastro-intestinal conditions, determining when this form of epilepsy is present is very difficult.  Health professionals have provisionally suggested the following general protocols for identifying this form of epilepsy.

Only after physicians cannot identify the cause of recurring abdominal problems despite thorough testing and examination should they consider this form of epilepsy as a possibility.  Physician should begin with a blood draw and physical palpitation before moving on to more extensive and expensive testing.  The next stage of testing should include both CT and MRI scans of the brain and a further CT and ultrasound scan of the abdominal cavity.  As a last step, physicians should also rule out other conditions using more invasive procedures such as endoscopy of both the upper and lower intestinal tracts before considering this rare form of epilepsy as a possible cause.  Furthermore, physicians should consider accompanying brain-related symptoms such as disorientation and confusion before moving along this track at all. 

Physicians should then consider having the patient undergo an electroencephalogram.  If the results of this test deviate from the norm, the physician should prescribe epileptic anti-seizure medication.  If the patient’s gastro-intestinal symptoms disappear during the period of medication use, the physician should consider this a likely indication of the presence of abdominal epilepsy.


The medical community treats abdominal epilepsy in the same way they treat regular epilepsy.  Abdominal epilepsy responds well toe anti-convulsive medications (such as Dilantin), making it a treatable condition.

It is unclear whether the epilepsy drugs treat the abdominal epilepsy directly or whether they help indirectly.