July 22, 2022

Abdominal epilepsy: a simple overview

About Epilepsy

Abdominal epilepsy is a rare form of epilepsy which causes pain in your stomach and sickness. Learn about symptoms of abdominal epilepsy, and treatment.

Do you, or someone you know, experience severe pain in your stomach area, which may be followed by vomiting and lethargy? These could be symptoms of abdominal epilepsy.

A woman suffering with stomach pain – a symptom of abdominal epilepsy

Abdominal epilepsy is a rare condition that seems to affect children more often than adults. Because it is so uncommon, we know relatively little about exactly why it happens.

In this overview, we will explore the treatment, symptoms and diagnosis of abdominal epilepsy.

Abdominal epilepsy causes: What we know

Abdominal epilepsy is a rare form of epilepsy which is associated with intense discomfort or pain in the abdomen (your stomach area and digestive system). It can make people vomit and feel tired, as well as causing other kinds of seizures.

Because it is so unusual, there has been relatively little research into abdominal epilepsy’s causes, but it is believed that it is a form of temporal lobe epilepsy. It can cause both focal aware and focal unaware (simple or partial) seizures.

What are the symptoms of abdominal epilepsy?

People with abdominal epilepsy experience a range of symptoms, but it is especially associated with things like:

  • Sharp pains or cramp in the abdominal area, which can last from a few seconds to half an hour - or even longer. For some people the pain happens several times per day, for others it’s just a couple of times per year
  • Nausea (feeling like you might be sick) and vomiting
  • Feeling very tired or falling asleep after these episodes
  • Seeming confused or unresponsive
  • Intense headaches
  • Tonic clonic (convulsive) seizures

Diagnosing abdominal epilepsy

Because abdominal epilepsy is rare, it may take longer than usual to get the correct diagnosis. The symptoms of abdominal epilepsy might be confused with other gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. What is more, feeling sick or nauseous is a common aura (a ‘warning’ of a seizure) for people with other types of epilepsy. This means that doctors might confuse the symptoms of abdominal epilepsy with general auras.

To diagnose abdominal epilepsy, doctors will use some of the following tests:

  • Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) which can detect unusual brain patterns that are typical of people with epilepsy
  • Scanning of the abdomen and the brain (CT scans and ultrasound)
  • MRI scans of the brain
  • Blood tests

Abdominal epilepsy in children

Because abdominal epilepsy is more common in children, it can sometimes be easier to diagnose than in adults. If you’re the parent or carer of a child who seems to be having abdominal seizures, it can be really useful to provide detailed descriptions of the child’s sickness, pain, and any other symptoms when visiting the doctor.

Related: What causes epilepsy in children?

Abdominal epilepsy in adults

Unfortunately, abdominal epilepsy in adults can be hard to diagnose. Doctors sometimes misdiagnose the condition, or may conduct extensive tests which fail to find the real cause. If you think the cause of your pain may be abdominal epilepsy, try to keep detailed notes of when you feel this pain, where you feel it, information about how long it lasts, and notes about other symptoms.

Treatment: is abdominal epilepsy curable?

Yes, abdominal epilepsy seems to respond well to treatment. While it can take some time to diagnose the condition, research suggests that anti epilepsy drugs help reduce or stop the seizures and pain for many people.

By working closely with your doctor, and getting the correct diagnosis, many people with abdominal epilepsy can achieve seizure freedom – and really improve their quality of life.