Epilepsy in Children

March 1, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Finding out you’re going to be a parent is life-changing. Some people panic. Others experience pure joy when the pregnancy is confirmed. Some do both. But, if there’s one common denominator, it’s that everyone wants their child to be born in good health. So when the OB-GYN confirms the baby’s development is coming along beautifully, there’s a collective sigh of relief. But, what happens if one night, your newborn baby seems to be having seizures? Or what if — in the middle of storytime— your child starts convulsing?

What is epilepsy?

While epilepsy involves seizures, it’s important to know that not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. Sometimes, children will experience a seizure while having a high fever, chickenpox, or an ear infection. This is a result of abnormal brain activity related to the illness the child is going through. Once cured, the seizures usually stop. That said, when a child has chronic seizures that are unrelated to an underlying illness, the abnormal brain activity may be the result of epilepsy.

Epilepsy is the result of brain cells discharging abnormally high electrical impulses, causing involuntary jerks and movements and loss of consciousness. It is the fourth most common neurological disorder, affecting one in 26 people in the United States. How it affects your child depends on the types of seizures they experience.

Pediatric Epilepsy Causes

Epilepsy in children sometimes has no known cause. However, in some children, it could be caused by any of the following factors:

  • Head injuries — as a result of a car accident or other physical trauma
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Congenital brain disorders
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Brain conditions — such as tumors or stroke. In fact, stroke is a leading cause of epilepsy
  • Infectious diseases — such as meningitis, AIDS, and viral encephalitis
  • Prenatal injury — before birth, babies are sensitive to brain damage, especially those caused by an infection in the mother, poor nutrition, or oxygen deficiencies
  • Developmental disorders — such as autism and neurofibromatosis
  • Genetic issues — certain genes may make a person more sensitive to environmental conditions that trigger seizures

Can epilepsy start at any age?

There are different types of seizures (generalized or focal), and they can start at any age during a child’s life. It’s also important to note that not all children who develop epilepsy will continue to have it past childhood.

Types of Epilepsy in Children

Epilepsy seizures are categorized into focal or generalized seizures. Each of them has its own subcategories, depending on the brain activity that’s causing them.

Focal Seizures

Focal seizures refer to those where the abnormal electrical discharge occurs in a specific, small region of the brain. They can range from mild to severe, with the mildest forms not having any effect on the child’s consciousness during the seizure. Focal seizures include:

Temporal Lobe Seizures: This is the most common type of epilepsy. The temporal lobes are located on both sides of the head, underneath the temples. It’s the part of the brain that retains memory and emotions and interprets sounds and language. Children who experience this type of seizure may notice an unusual smell, as well as feel fear and/or anxiety. They also do repetitive movements, often including rubbing their hands together and smacking their lips.

Occipital Lobe Seizures: The occipital lobe is located on the back portion of the brain. It is the part of the brain that’s in charge of visual cues. Signs of occipital lobe seizures include hallucinations, visual disturbances, partial blindness, flickering or colored lights, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. These types of seizures are rarer in children and are often mistaken for migraines.

Frontal Lobe Seizures: The frontal lobe is located right beneath the forehead. It’s the part of the brain in charge of problem-solving and making decisions. Symptoms of this type of epileptic seizure occur most often when the person is asleep, and include doing bicycling movements of the arms and legs, thrashing, and night waking.

Parietal Lobe Seizures: The parietal lobe is located in the center of the brain. It’s the part that’s responsible for processing information regarding pain, space, and the sense of touch. Prior to this type of seizure, the child may feel a tingling or burning sensation in their hands and/or feet. Parietal lobe seizures are rare in children.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures occur when the electrical discharge in the brain is widespread, involving both hemispheres of the brain. They cause the child to experience stiffening of the limbs and rhythmic, full-body jerking movements. There are three types of generalized seizures:

Absence Seizures: Absence seizures are also known as petit mal seizures. They are brief and do not involve significant movements. Your child may stop moving, stare into space, and/or blink rapidly. They may also lean forward or backward. However, the episodes only last a few seconds and they don’t involve a loss of consciousness.

Myoclonic Seizures: Myoclonic seizures cause rapid, jerking movements on both sides of the body. These movements are brief and can be confused with tremors or clumsiness. The child also remains fully conscious during these types of seizures.

Tonic-Clonic Seizures: This is the type of seizure that comes to mind when a person thinks about epilepsy. Also known as grand mal seizures, they involve two phases: the tonic and clonic phases. During the tonic phase, the child will experience stiffening of their muscles, groaning, and losing consciousness, and falling to the floor. Then the clonic phase begins. This is when the arms and legs jerk rapidly. Tonic-clonic seizures may last for several minutes and cause the child to lose control of their bladder or bowel. When the seizure ends, the child is confused, sleepy, or depressed, and it may take a while for their awareness to fully return. If the seizure lasts more than five minutes, call 911 immediately.

Pediatric Epilepsy Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms will vary, depending on the age of the child. And if the child is too young, it may be difficult to determine whether they are experiencing a seizure. The most common signs to pay attention to include:

Epilepsy Symptoms in Newborn Babies

It may not be completely obvious when a baby has a seizure, since a lot of babies’ movements are involuntary. However, some of the signs of a seizure include:

  • Changes in breathing pattern
  • Inability to focus attention
  • Stiff limbs
  • Unusual movement of eyelids
  • Limpness and unresponsiveness

Epilepsy Symptoms in Young Children

  • Staring into space
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Confusion
  • Falling for no apparent reason
  • Non-responsiveness to noise

Complications of Epilepsy in Children

Complications of epilepsy can be serious. Depending on the type of seizure and what triggered it, a child may experience:

Can the risk of seizures be diminished?

There are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of having seizures. The best way to prevent them is to know what triggers them in the first place. For some children, it may be stressful events or a lack of adequate sleep. Sometimes, it may be regular flashes of light, such as from watching television or playing with electronics — such as smartphones, computers, or tablets. Once you know what triggers them, modify the child’s behavior and schedule accordingly. Common tips include:

  • Make sure they get enough sleep.
  • Engage them in playtime that involves books or toys or something other than electronics.
  • Make sure the child takes all prescribed antiepileptic medications.
  • Learn relaxation techniques for when the child seems to be stressed.

Treatment for Children with Epilepsy

Most children with epilepsy are treated with antiepileptic medications. The good news is that for many children, the need for medication is temporary. However, each patient has to take into account their medical history and the type of epilepsy they have. While online research serves as a starting point, the only way to know for sure what’s best for your child’s treatment is to talk with your child’s pediatrician.

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 skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

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 are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.