Diagnostic delays in children with early onset epilepsy: Impact, reasons, and opportunities to improve care

Anne T. Berg*, Tobias Loddenkemper, Christine B. Baca

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Purpose Delayed diagnosis of early onset epilepsy is a potentially important and avoidable complication in epilepsy care. We examined the frequency of diagnostic delays in young children with newly presenting epilepsy, their developmental impact, and reasons for delays. Methods Children who developed epilepsy before their third birthday were identified in a prospective community-based cohort. An interval ≥1 month from second seizure to diagnosis was considered a delay. Testing of development at baseline and for up to 3 years after and of intelligence quotient (IQ) 8-9 years later was performed. Detailed parental baseline interview accounts and medical records were reviewed to identify potential reasons for delays. Factors associated with delays included the parent, child, pediatrician, neurologist, and scheduling. Results Diagnostic delays occurred in 70 (41%) of 172 children. Delays occurred less often if children had received medical attention for the first seizure (p < 0.0001), previously had neonatal or febrile seizures (p = 0.02), had only convulsions before diagnosis (p = 0.005), or had a college-educated parent (p = 0.01). A ≥1 month diagnostic delay was associated with an average 7.4 point drop (p = 0.02) in the Vineland Scales of Adaptive Behavior motor score. The effect was present at diagnosis, persisted for at least 3 years, and was also apparent in IQ scores 8-9 years later, which were lower in association with a diagnostic delay by 8.4 points (p = 0.06) for processing speed up to 14.5 points (p = 0.004) for full scale IQ, after adjustment for parental education and other epilepsy-related clinical factors. Factors associated with delayed diagnosis included parents not recognizing events as seizures (N = 47), pediatricians missing or deferring diagnosis (N = 15), neurologists deferring diagnosis (N = 7), and scheduling problems (N = 11). Significance Diagnostic delays occur in many young children with epilepsy. They are associated with substantial decrements in development and IQ later in childhood. Several factors influence diagnostic delays and may represent opportunities for intervention and improved care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-132
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Barriers to care
  • Development
  • Health services
  • Pediatrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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