Understanding Atonic Seizures

April 22, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Like other types of seizures, watching a child experience an atonic seizure can be a very distressing event. Even if the seizure passes relatively briefly, there can be lasting anxiety about the next occurrence, the underlying cause, and how to care for this condition on a long-term basis. While atonic seizures are serious, they are also manageable, and many children outgrow this condition before adulthood.

Take a moment to read the following overview of atonic seizures that includes major symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and care options for these events. Educating yourself as a parent and caregiver can be an important first step in achieving a positive care outcome for your little one.

What Is an Atonic Seizure?

Also called drop attacks or drop seizures, atonic seizures very often result in sudden falling or loss of head posture due to a decrease in muscle tension. The term atonic means no muscle tension and a seizure is a disruption in normal brain activity due to an inability to transmit electrical signals properly. So an atonic seizure is when disrupted brain activity causes muscles to go limp, either throughout the body or in one area specifically.

An atonic seizure can be a generalized seizure, which occurs across the entire brain, or a focal seizure, which is limited to one area. These types of seizures are most commonly seen in young children, although atonic seizures can continue into adulthood in some cases.

Atonic Seizure Symptoms

The specific symptoms of an atonic seizure depend on the specific type of seizure it is. Generalized atonic seizures are more likely to affect the entire body, and may include the following signs:

  • Sudden loss of muscle tension, causing the entire body to drop
  • Falling to the ground
  • Briefly losing consciousness
  • Nodding of the head and drooping eyelids
  • Jerking of the body

A focal-onset atonic seizure, which originates in only one part of the brain, is more likely to cause symptoms in localized parts of the body. In many situations, this will not result in the person falling, but may only cause the head to droop, or the person to drop an object on the ground.

Triggers for atonic seizures may include hyperventilation and blinking lights.

An atonic seizure will usually have a short duration, sometimes lasting under a minute. Children who experience them may be disoriented or they may return to a normal state relatively quickly. Injury, especially head injury, can be a significant risk for people who undergo atonic seizures.

Atonic Seizure Causes

Seizures can have a range of causes and are very often related to a seizure disorder such as epilepsy. Atonic seizures in particular are frequently linked to a severe form of childhood epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. This condition can be caused by congenital brain malformation, acquired brain injury, and genetic disorders. In many cases, the underlying causes may not be identified. Seizures are also sometimes related to problems including tumors, infections, and meningitis. This is why a thorough diagnosis is required to confirm the underlying causes.

Diagnosing Atonic Seizures

Atonic seizures, or seizures of any type, should be diagnosed as early as possible. Doctors will typically perform a physical examination, ask for a detailed description of the seizures, review medical history, and order diagnostic testing. The most common tests for patients experiencing seizures are:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Magnetic resonance imagery (MRI)

Atonic Seizures Treatment Options

While there is no cure for atonic seizures or underlying disorders such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, there is effective treatment available. Doctors will usually prescribe anticonvulsant medications, which are often effective but may cause side effects. Other treatment options can include dietary changes and electric nerve stimulation.

Due to the highly varied nature of seizures and seizure disorders, an individualized approach is key to creating an effective plan. Children experiencing seizures also often benefit from therapy and behavioral counseling to successfully cope with this condition and address emotional and developmental concerns.

Caring for a Child with Atonic Seizures

Children who experience seizures and live with epilepsy or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome have highly advanced care needs. Many families rely on pediatric home health services to provide the support and attention required. A nurse can help with medication regimens, nutritional assistance, supervised care, and accompanying a child to medical appointments, among other services such as assessing the seizure and providing treatment per physician’s orders.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.