A seizure in a child can occur suddenly and without warning, and can be a frightening experience for parents. But fear can be minimized by knowing the facts and working with your child’s doctor.
The brain is a high-powered computer and a seizure is best thought of as a short circuit. Experts believe seizures are caused by spontaneous electric discharges from brain cells. If a child has a tendency toward seizures, they might be triggered by:
Sometimes seizures are caused by very low blood sugar, electrolyte imbalances or infections of the brain.
Most seizures are thought of as “fits,” spells or convulsions with loss of consciousness and muscle jerks. However, other symptoms may include lack of attention, blackouts, brief stares, sudden falls, dazed or confused behavior, rapid eye blinking, head-nodding, sudden bending down and other unusual behaviors. Breathing is usually irregular during a seizure, but it’s very rare for breathing to stop.
Seizures may last a few seconds, several minutes or in rare circumstances for hours. Afterwards, the child may sleep deeply, feel drowsy, or seem confused, clumsy and weak.
When a child experiences a seizure for the first time, parents should call the child’s doctor right away.
The doctor will want to know what your son was doing when the seizure occurred, and if the seizure affected one or both sides of his body.
GET YOUR CHILD TO THE HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY IF:
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD HAS A SEIZURE
Fever-related seizures are among the most common neurologic disorders of childhood. One in 20 children will have the onset of febrile seizures usually between the ages of 3 months and 6 years. Toddlers are more likely to have them, with boys twice as susceptible as girls. Febrile seizures appear to run in families.
Though the cause is uncertain, one trigger is a sudden and rapid rise in temperature. A febrile seizure may signal the start of an illness, usually an upper respiratory or gastrointestinal infection.
Most children have just one febrile seizure episode. But as many as 30 percent have a second and a few will have many of them.
Febrile seizures, even when repeated, generally do not cause brain damage. Only rarely do febrile seizures develop into epilepsy. The best weapon against febrile seizures is time. Children outgrow the tendency by 6-8 years old.
Epilepsy is a brain disease that affects two out of every 100 children and over 2 million Americans. It is defined by having two or more seizures not caused by fever. Another way of putting it is that epilepsy is a tendency toward having seizures. Seizures are extremely common; one out of 10 people will have a seizure during his/her lifetime. Many forms of epilepsy begin during childhood.
In about three quarters of the cases, a specific cause can’t be found. Some of the known causes include:
About one-third of children with epilepsy have their first seizure while in elementary school. About 17 percent have it before age 2 and 13 percent during preschool age.
Any time you spot a pattern in which your child momentarily seems unaware of her surroundings (especially if the child’s teacher notices it), report it to her physician. In infants, the pattern may seem like a series of repeated movements that just don’t seem right.
Epilepsy can be diagnosed with a medical history, description of the seizure episode, physical and neurological exams, an EEG to measure electrical activity in the brain and other methods. Sometimes it can be difficult to diagnose epilepsy.
If the diagnosis is epilepsy, the child’s physician may prescribe medication to prevent seizures. While this daily anticonvulsant medication cannot cure epilepsy, treatment can help the child control the seizures and live a normal life.
As the child grows and matures, the dosage and the medication may change. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your child’s physician. Many children outgrow their seizures; in time, they no longer need medication.
Besides medications, there are other therapies available to treat epilepsy. Some patients benefit from special diets such as the ketogenic diet (high-fat, low carbohydrate diet). Others, with difficult to control seizures, get help from a specially implanted device called a vagus nerve stimulator. Many other patients benefit from epilepsy surgery, with a large number going on to be seizure free.
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