Seizures and Epilepsy
Seizures are sudden, uncontrollable events that occur when the brain sends out abnormal electrical signals to the body. There are many reasons why people have seizures. When a child has seizures repeatedly, he or she is considered to have epilepsy. Usually, this condition can be partially or completely controlled. With proper treatment, epilepsy won’t stop your child from enjoying life.
Why Do People Develop Epilepsy?
Most cases of epilepsy start in childhood. Many children who are diagnosed with epilepsy continue to have seizures into adulthood. Often, doctors can’t explain why a child has epilepsy. Certain factors, such as head injury, brain infection, stroke, or tumors can raise a child’s risk for getting epilepsy. Seizure disorders like epilepsy may run in families. More and more people are being diagnosed with genetic causes for epilepsy as genetic testing becomes more widely available.
What Are Seizures?
Seizures are caused by problems with the electrical signals in the brain. Common symptoms of seizures include:
Convulsions (muscle jerking) involving either part of the body or the whole body
Loss of consciousness
Sudden stiffening of the body
Loss of bladder control
Repetitive movements, such as chewing, lip smacking, or clapping
Short periods of memory loss or confusion
Periods of blank staring or blinking (with loss of awareness)
Unresponsiveness to questions or instructions
A child may feel sudden fear, anger, or panic before a seizure. He or she may notice changes in the way things look, sound, smell, or feel before the seizure. These are referred to as auras and are actually the earliest part of a seizure. After the seizure is over, the child is often weak or confused.
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. If your child has seizures, a neurologist will evaluate him or her to see if a cause can be found. You’ll be asked questions about your child’s health and the history of the seizures. An EEG (electroencephalogram) is often done. This is a test that records brain activity. Other tests may also be done, including an MRI or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). In some circumstances, the doctor may order genetic testing.
Your doctor will discuss with you the best way to treat your child’s epilepsy. Seizures can often be controlled with medications. Doctors sometimes suggest special diets for children who have epilepsy. For some patients, surgery may be a treatment option. Many children stop having seizures as they get older. Even those who continue to have seizures can live normal and happy lives.