Public Release: 

Febrile convulsions in early childhood not harmful to the developing brain

American Academy of Neurology

St. Paul, MN (July 2, 2001) -- A study of 87 young children ages 7 to 8 years old with a history of confirmed febrile convulsion (FC) found that the children performed consistently better than controls in working memory tests. Published in the July 10 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the study found that children in the study demonstrated better mnemonic capacity, more flexible mental processing, and higher impulsivity than in age-matched controls.

The population-based study was undertaken at the pediatrics department at the National Cheng Kung University College of Medicine in Tainan City, Taiwan, to determine whether febrile convulsions in early childhood was associated with working memory deficits in school age children.

"In contrast to the wealth of data showing comparable or lower intelligence of children with a history of FC, prior to this study we had very little data on FC's later effect on other cognitive abilities, such as memory," said Chao-Ching Huang, MD, neurologist and study author. "In this population study, children with FC did not demonstrate any disadvantage in their neurocognitive development," said Huang. "To our surprise, they scored significantly better in all working memory measurement tests but one."

"Although a larger scale population study is needed to validate our findings, our study reinforces the hypothesis that biological factors rather than seizures per se are the significant risk factors for neurocognitive disadvantage in children with a history of FC," he said.

However, there were risk factors associated with working memory deficits. "FC onset before age one is a significant risk factor for greater deficits in mnemonic function such as learning tasks, consolidation and delayed recognition," Huang said.

Parents of 4,340 children born between fall 1989 and spring 1990 were interviewed and 103 met the criteria for having FC. All the children were followed up yearly for any reocurrances until they were at least six years old. When they were at least six, 87 children completed the working memory test.

Huang said febrile convulsions are common in children, affecting 2 percent to 4 percent of children under age five.

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The study was supported by grants from the Taiwan National Health Research Institute, Chang Gung Children's Hospital, and the National Science Counsel.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,500 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its web site at www.aan.com.

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