Abdominal epilepsy is an extremely rare type of epilepsy that includes abdominal pain, discomfort, and other symptoms.

Seizures are episodes of involuntary movement or changes in consciousness that occur due to bursts of electrical activity in the brain. Epilepsy is the most common cause of recurrent seizures.

To receive an epilepsy diagnosis, you need to experience two or more seizures at separate times without another underlying cause like electrolyte imbalance or infection.

In a 2005 study, researchers only found 36 cases of abdominal epilepsy published in English medical journals between 1969 to 2005. Most of the cases that are described are in children, but some have also been reported in adults.

People with abdominal epilepsy develop abdominal symptoms, such as stomach pain or vomiting, that usually pass in less than 1 hour. Little is known about what causes abdominal epilepsy or how to best manage it.

Let’s examine what researchers have learned so far.

Abdominal epilepsy is a general term that refers to epilepsy with symptoms that primarily affect your digestive tract. Symptoms usually last less than an hour. They can include:

Altered activity of your central nervous system may also cause symptoms like:

Abdominal epilepsy symptoms in children

The cases of abdominal epilepsy describe similar symptoms in children and adults.

In a 2021 case study, researchers reported a 7-year-old boy with abdominal epilepsy.

Within a month of birth, doctors treated him for hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in the brain). When he was 4, he developed atypical abdominal sensations for 1 to 2 seconds that occurred every 3 to 6 months.

At the age of 5, he developed muscle spasms in his left limbs and face that lasted for 30 minutes. He continued to have abrupt and severe abdominal pain 1 to 2 times per month. These episodes were occurring 1 to 2 times per week at the time the study was published.

Abdominal epilepsy symptoms in adults

In a 2020 case study, researchers presented a 20-year-old male who was experiencing episodes of severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

Each episode lasted 8 to 12 minutes and occurred 3 to 5 times per day. Each episode onset quickly and resolved by itself.

In another case study, researchers presented a 52-year-old woman who experienced abdominal pain that lasted for 10 to 15 minutes at random intervals. She experienced her first abdominal seizure at the age of 37. She did not report any seizures after starting the treatment regimen that she credited to her recovery.

The underlying cause of epilepsy is unknown in about 50% of cases. It’s sometimes linked to:

In the 2020 case study mentioned above, researchers hypothesized that abnormal activity in the Sylvian fissure and insular cortex might play a role in the development of abdominal seizures. They are located deep in the sides of your brain.

There are no consistent risk factors noted for abdominal epilepsy, and it is described in more cases affecting children than adults. Researchers are currently investigating other risk factors.

Abdominal epilepsy is extremely rare. Only 7 studies appear in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database from the past 5 years under the phrase “abdominal epilepsy.”

Some people with abdominal epilepsy may experience loss of consciousness. Loss of consciousness may put you at risk of physical injury.

Frequent bouts of gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting may have a severe impact on your quality of life.

It’s important to contact a doctor if you experience a seizure for the first time or if you develop new symptoms. A doctor can help you adjust your medications or try new combinations to keep symptoms under control.

Abdominal epilepsy has a high chance of misdiagnosis because of its rarity and lack of specific symptoms.

Doctors may make the diagnosis by ruling out other conditions and looking for signs of abnormal brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG).

A positive response to anticonvulsant medications can also reaffirm the diagnosis.

Abdominal epilepsy is usually treated with anticonvulsant drugs, as with other types of epilepsy. Your doctor may have you try multiple combinations of drugs until you find a combination that works for you.

Medications used in research include:

  • fluoxetine
  • carbamazepine
  • oxcarbazepine
  • pregabalin
  • codeine/paracetamol
  • perampanel
  • zonisamide
  • clobazam

In a 2019 case study, researchers found that vagal nerve stimulation reduced abdominal seizures in a teenager with abdominal epilepsy who didn’t respond to medications.

Learn more about medications for epilepsy.

If you’re with somebody having a seizure, it’s best to:

  • stay with them until the seizure passes
  • comfort them by speaking calmly
  • check if they’re wearing a medical bracelet
  • keep other people calm
  • help to get them home safely
Medical emergency

Call emergency medical service if somebody has a seizure and:

  • it’s their first seizure
  • it lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • they have another seizure shortly after
  • their seizure occurs in water
  • they’re pregnant, have heart disease, or diabetes
  • the person is hurt
  • you feel that you are not able to help someone having a seizure and need help

Little is known about the long-term outlook of abdominal epilepsy. Some people in case studies have achieved decreased seizure frequency with anti-epileptic medications.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about abdominal epilepsy.

Can adults have abdominal epilepsy?

Abdominal epilepsy is extremely rare in children and adults. It appears to be more common in children than adults.

Is abdominal epilepsy curable?

There’s currently no cure for epilepsy. Many people have reduced seizure frequency with anti-epileptic medication.

Comparing abdominal epilepsy vs. abdominal migraine

Abdominal migraine is a type of migraine with symptoms felt primarily in the belly. Abdominal migraine and abdominal epilepsy can occur together and cause similar symptoms. Prolonged headache is more frequently a symptom of abdominal migraine.

Abdominal migraine episodes tend to last longer in general, with symptoms lasting an average of about 17 hours.

Abdominal epilepsy is an extremely rare type of epilepsy characterized by sudden abdominal symptoms such as abdominal pain or vomiting. Symptoms usually pass within an hour.

There’s no cure for abdominal epilepsy. Little is known about how to best treat abdominal epilepsy, but some people seem to have symptom relief with anti-epileptic medications.