Towards a better understanding of cognitive deficits in absence epilepsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Eric L.A. Fonseca Wald (Corresponding author), Jos G.M. Hendriksen, Gerhard Drenthen, S.M.J. van Kuijk, A.P. (Bert) Aldenkamp, Johan S.H. Vles, R. Jeroen Vermeulen, Mariette H.J.A. Debeij-van Hall, Sylvia Klinkenberg (Corresponding author)

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Cognition in absence epilepsy (AE) is generally considered undisturbed. However, reports on cognitive deficits in AE in recent years have suggested otherwise. This review systematically assesses current literature on cognitive performance in children with AE. A systematic literature search was performed in Pubmed, Embase, Cochrane and Web of Science. All studies reporting on cognitive performance in children with AE were considered. In total 33 studies were eligible for inclusion. Neuropsychological tests were classified into the following domains: intelligence; executive function; attention; language; motor & sensory-perceptual examinations; visuoperceptual/visuospatial/visuoconstructional function; memory and learning; achievement. Random-effect meta-analyses were conducted by estimating the pooled mean and/or pooling the mean difference in case-control studies. Full-scale IQ in children with AE was estimated at 96.78 (95%CI:94.46-99.10) across all available studies and in case-control studies IQ was on average 8.03 (95%CI:-10.45- -5.61) lower. Verbal IQ was estimated at 97.98 (95%CI:95.80-100.16) for all studies and 9.01 (95%CI:12.11- -5.90) points lower in case-control studies. Performance IQ was estimated at 97.23 (93.24-101.22) for all available studies and 5.32 (95%CI:-8.27-2.36) points lower in case-control studies. Lower performance was most often reported in executive function (cognitive flexibility, planning, and verbal fluency) and attention (sustained, selective and divided attention). Reports on school difficulties, neurodevelopmental problems, and attentional problems were high. In conclusion, in contrast to common beliefs, lower than average neurocognitive performance was noted in multiple cognitive domains, which may influence academic and psychosocial development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-449
Number of pages29
JournalNeuropsychology Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Absence epilepsy
  • Cognition
  • Meta-analysis
  • Systematic review

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