What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the nervous system; also known as seizure disorder, a person is diagnosed as having epilepsy if he has a minimum of two seizures that are not caused by a known medical condition.

New cases of epilepsy are most common among children in the first year of life and affects about 2% of children in the United States.

Causes of Epilepsy: Risk Factors

The specific cause of epilepsy is generally unknown. Sometimes it is connected to an infection or injury in the brain; heredity can also play an important role in the incidence of epilepsy among children. However, having a parent with epilepsy only slightly increases the risk of a child developing the disease.

Factors that increase an infant�s risk of developing epilepsy include:

  • being small for his gestational age
  • having a seizure in the first month of life
  • having an irregular brain structure
  • having cerebral palsy
  • having an infection in the brain
  • having a brain tumor
  • suffering a brain injury
  • not getting enough oxygen to the brain
  • family history of epilepsy or fever-related seizures
    • dizziness
    • nausea
    • racing thoughts
    • visual blurring
    • falling
    • blacking out
    • teeth clenching
    • eye movements
    • muscle spasms
    • drooling
    • a temporary pause in breathing
    • memory loss
    • confusion
    • fear
    • weakness
    • shame
    • bruising
    • difficulty talking
    • childhood absence epilepsy: a benign form of epilepsy that usually disappears by adulthood, childhood absence epilepsy affects 2 to 8% of children with the disease; its onset usually occurs between 4 to 8 years of age. This epilepsy type has a genetic root. Symptoms include blanking out and rolling of the eyes
    • juvenile absence epilepsy: similar to childhood absence epilepsy, this form of the disease is common and the onset is generally 10 to 17 years of age. Seizures take the form of appearing to daydream or blank out
    • juvenile myoclonic epilepsy: the most common type of epilepsy among children, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy affects 7% of children. It is usually triggered by bright or flashing lights and sometimes by periods of concentration. Children generally don�t outgrow this type of epilepsy that has a genetic root; symptoms include jerks in the arms, shoulders and occasionally the legs
      • primary generalized seizures: a type of convulsion that starts with a strong electrical discharge in both sides of the brain; this type of seizure is linked to genetics
      • partial seizures: these convulsions are limited to the one side of the brain and are thought to be caused by an injury or infection of the brain
      • grand mal seizures
      • : also known as tonic-clonic seizures, a grand mal seizure causes unconsciousness, falling down and loss of bladder and bowel control
    • Seizure Types

      Types of seizures include:

      Epileptic seizures usually last from between 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

      Epilepsy Diagnosis

      While there is no conclusive test to diagnose epilepsy, there are tests available to help ascertain whether a child has epilepsy.

      Such tests include an electroencephalogram (or EEG), which monitors brainwave patterns.

      Epilepsy Treatments

      A recent study found that up to 70% of children with a recent diagnosis of epilepsy were able to control their epileptic seizures through medications.

      Anti-epileptic drugs (such as carbamezepine and sodium valproate) control brain activity and minimize seizures and other epilepsy symptoms; such medications are typically the first step in epilepsy treatment. Different anti-epileptic drugs work best for different types of epilepsy. Over half of children who control their epileptic seizures and symptoms by medication can eventually stop taking medications and live independently.

      Surgery is a form of treatment used for more severe cases of epilepsy and the most effective. Epilepsy surgery removes the sections of the brain that cause seizures; computer technology similar to an MRI is used to locate these so-called hot spots.

      Vagus nerve stimulation is a type of epilepsy surgery in which a device similar to a pacemaker is implanted under the skin on the chest wall, with a wire running from the chest wall to the vagus nerve (which is part of the nervous system) in the neck.

      A ketogenic diet has been used to treat children with epilepsy for many years and has a 50% success rate. This diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates; a ketogenic diet is usually undertaken with the supervision of a dietician and is also supervised by a doctor, sometimes in a hospital setting.

      Click here for information on activities that can help promote your special needs child's development, as well as for additional information on treatment and schooling options for children with epilepsy.


  • Epilepsy Symptoms

    Although the reason for this is not known, a child can have a seizure years after the onset of the disease.

    Seizures (which are also referred to as convulsions) are the most common symptom of epilepsy. A seizure is a sudden charge of electrical activity in the brain; some seizures are barely noticeable, while others can completely immobilize a child.

    Warning signs that a seizure is imminent include:

    Seizure symptoms include:

    Common symptoms that follow a seizure include: Seizures often occur during sleep, leading to fatigue and sleep apnea. Seizures during sleep are common, affecting 80% of children with the disease; not getting a proper amount and quality of sleep increases the number of seizures a child has while sleeping because sleep-wake cycles are linked with important changes in brain electrical activity. Hormonal changes that take place during sleep can also lead to seizures during sleep.

    Children with epilepsy are also more likely to have behavioral problems, such as lack of concentration and a poor attention span.

    Epilepsy Types

    Types of epilepsy that are common in children are: