Abdominal epilepsy (AE) is a rare form of epilepsy causing seizures, nausea, and vomiting. Because the condition is so uncommon, experts do not know what causes AE.

AE occurs most often in children. However, it can also affect adults. The condition is defined by recurrent abdominal seizures, which can cause pain, nausea, confusion, and more.

Read more to learn about what abdominal seizures are, what causes AE, and how the condition is treated.

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Abdominal seizures, or gastric seizures, describe a sensation of pain in the abdomen.

The pain may be sharp or feel like a strong cramp. It may accompany nausea or vomiting. Some people also experience neurological symptoms such as confusion and lethargy.

Because AE is so rare, there is little research investigating the condition, so experts do not know exactly what causes it.

However, they do know the cause of epilepsy: disruptions in the brain’s electrical rhythms. A burst of electrical energy in the brain can briefly affect a person’s consciousness, body function, or sensations.

The sensation of abdominal pain, therefore, could be a result of this brain disruption.

Abdominal seizures are most common in children. They can appear in adults with epilepsy too. However, this is rare.

However, some research has shown that doctors occasionally misdiagnose adults with AE. Instead of diagnosing them with AE, they may diagnose them with other physical or psychological disorders.

This highlights the need to raise awareness of the condition and improve diagnosis in adults.

Learn more about epilepsy in children.

Recurrent abdominal seizures define AE. While these can be different for different people, some symptoms include:

  • episodes of sharp abdominal pain for no obvious reason
  • nausea or vomiting
  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness
  • migraine or headache
  • convulsions

It is difficult to diagnose AE, and it can take longer than other forms of epilepsy.

This is because the primary symptom of abdominal seizures is abdominal pain, a very common symptom of many conditions. AE is very rare, making it an unlikely cause of abdominal pain in most people, so it is often overlooked.

Usually, a doctor will need to rule out other possible causes before diagnosing a person with AE. They may run tests including:

There are four key criteria a doctor will look for to diagnose AE. They are:

  • unexplained gastrointestinal seizures
  • symptoms of central nervous system problems
  • an abnormal electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • an improvement in symptoms after treatment with anti-convulsive drugs

If a doctor diagnoses a person with AE, they will treat it similarly to how they would treat any other form of epilepsy. This may include a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. In some cases, a person may need surgery.

Medication

The first line of treatment for epilepsy is antiepileptic medications (AEDs). These treat the symptoms of epilepsy. However, they do not cure the condition. They work by reducing or stopping the brain from having bursts of electrical activity.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), up to 70% of people with epilepsy are able to control their seizures with AEDs.

Medications for treating epilepsy commonly include:

  • levetiracetam
  • valproic acid
  • carbamazepine
  • lamotrigine
  • pregabalin

Learn more about medications for epilepsy.

Diet

A ketogenic diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates can help reduce seizures in people with epilepsy. More than 50% of people who try a ketogenic diet see an improvement in seizure control, and 1 in 10 stop having seizures altogether.

More research is exploring the positive effects of a modified Atkins diet and a low-glycemic index treatment.

Learn more about ketogenic diets for epilepsy.

Some people with AE may need to take medication for the rest of their lives to control seizures. Others may find that they can eventually come off medication.

Avoiding triggers, such as stress, may help. People taking medication for AE should not reduce or stop medication without contacting a doctor.

Abdominal epilepsy is a rare form of epilepsy that is more common in children than adults. However, research shows that doctors may misdiagnose adults with other physical or psychological conditions.

AE can cause abdominal pain, nausea, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Treatment for AE involves medication, diet, or surgery if medication fails to control seizures.