Epilepsy in Children

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by disturbances in brain activity, that results in recurrent seizures. Epileptic seizures can cause muscle spasms, convulsions and other troubling symptoms at any time. Epilepsy may develop as a result of abnormal brain wiring, an imbalance in nerve signals, or changes in brain cells. In many cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown, however, it may be caused by genetics, head injury, tumor, certain diseases, or prenatal brain damage. Symptoms of epileptic seizures in children may vary and while seizures may be mild, all forms of epilepsy should be treated, as seizures may put children in danger during certain activities.

Symptoms of Epilepsy in Children

Symptoms of epilepsy may vary in children. Some children with epilepsy also suffer from intellectual disabilities. Seizures are a common symptom of epilepsy in children and they may begin occurring at any age, commonly before the age of 15. When a child experiences a seizure, he or she may experience a wide range of symptoms depending on the type and severity of the seizure. Characteristics of seizures may include:

  • Staring
  • Jerking movements
  • Stiffening of muscles and limbs
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nodding the head
  • Biting of the tongue
  • Rapid eye blinking

Seizures that cause stiffening or loss of muscle control may cause the child to collapse or fall to the ground. When a child is experiencing an epileptic seizure, it can be very distressing to those who may be present, especially a parent. It is important to make sure that the child does not get hurt or further injured during a seizure and the following suggestions may help to ensure their safety:

  • Move furniture or sharp objects out of the way
  • Lay the child on his or her side
  • Place a pillow under the head
  • Loosen any tight clothing

If the child is injured during the seizure or the seizure lasts more than five minutes, medical attention should be sought immediately. If a child is prone to multiple seizures, a helmet may help in preventing head injuries.

Diagnosis of Epilepsy in Children

Epilepsy is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review medical history and recurrent symptoms. A neurological exam is also performed to test mental function and motor skills, as well as the following diagnostic tests:

  • CT scan
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan

These tests may be used to further detect abnormal brain activity. Blood tests are also performed to test for infection, genetic conditions or other underlying illnesses that may cause seizures.

Treatment for Epilepsy in Children

Epilepsy is commonly treated with medication that is prescribed to reduce the seizures associated with this condition. Medication is often effective at completely stopping seizures from occurring and many children can eventually discontinue medications and live a seizure-free life. Some childhood epilepsy conditions may go into remission or stop entirely during adolescence. Some children suffering from epilepsy may also benefit from a ketogenic diet, which is high in fats and low in carbohydrates.

Severe cases of epilepsy that do not respond to medication, may be treated surgically. In most cases, surgery is not recommended until the patient is an adult. If the seizures are caused by a part of the brain not associated with major functions, the portion of the brain that is causing the seizures can be surgically removed. Another option for treating epilepsy may include a vagus nerve stimulation procedure. During this procedure, a device called a vagus nerve stimulator is implanted underneath the skin of the chest, sending bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve and to the brain, which inhibits seizures.

Additional Resources