Types of Seizures in Children

November 4, 2019
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Since their birth, you’ve vowed to do everything you can for your child. You ensure they’re happy, well-fed, and growing. You teach them how to crawl, walk, and use the big boy potty. But, if your child suffers from seizures, you likely feel helpless. It’s a confusing time and — once you’ve gotten your child the medical attention they need — you’re often left wondering how this could happen to your child and what could cause seizures in the first place. The answer lies in the different types of seizures in children.

Focal vs Generalized Seizures

Seizures occur when one or more parts of the brain have an abnormal electrical signal that interrupts normal signals. There are two main categories of seizures: focal and generalized. Focal seizures — also called partial seizures — take place in only one side of the brain, while generalized seizures take place in both parts of the brain.

When experiencing focal seizures, sometimes a child may experience an aura before the seizure occurs. This strange feeling consists of visual changes, hearing abnormalities, or changes in the sense of smell. The most common focal seizures are simple focal and complex focal seizures.

When a child experiences a generalized seizure, they typically lose consciousness or have an altered state of consciousness – known as a postictal state. There are four common generalized seizures: absence, atonic, generalized tonic-clonic, and myoclonic. They can occur at different ages throughout adolescence and produce different symptoms.

For more information, check out our blog: Focal vs Generalized Seizures: What’s the Difference?

The 6 Most Common Types of Seizures in Children

1. Simple Focal Seizures

Simple focal seizures occur for a short amount of time – typically lasting less than one minute. Symptoms can range depending on the abnormal electrical brain function. If it occurs in the occipital lobe, then your child may experience an altered vision. The most common result is isolated muscle groups – such as a finger or something larger like an arm or leg. Other symptoms may include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Becoming pale

2. Complex Focal Seizures

These types of focal seizures typically occur in the temporal lobe of the brain – where memories and emotions are controlled. They last longer than simple focal seizures, with seizures lasting between one to two minutes. Your child will likely lose consciousness, and when consciousness returns, they may complain of being tired or sleepy. Complex focal seizures usually produce behavior changes, including:

  • Gagging
  • Lip-smacking
  • Running
  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Laughing

3. Absence Seizures

Also called a petit mal seizure, absence seizures can cause a brief changed state of consciousness and staring. Your child will keep their posture, but their mouth or face may twitch, or their eyes blink rapidly for no longer than 30 seconds. Afterward, your child won’t be able to recall what just happened. These seizures can occur several times throughout the day, and are commonly associated with the following:

  • Learning problems
  • Behavioral problems
  • Children ages four to 12

4. Atonic Seizures

This type of generalized seizure is often called drop attacks because your child may suddenly fall from a standing position or drop their head if already sitting. These seizures are very quick – usually lasting less than 15 seconds. They occur in children but can last throughout adulthood. Atonic seizures often cause your child to:

  • Become unresponsive
  • Go limp
  • Lose muscle tone suddenly

5. Tonic-Clonic Seizures

A generalized tonic-clonic seizure (GTC) is also called a grand mal seizure because it occurs in five distinct phrases. First, the body, arms, and legs contract, then they extend, tremor, contract and relax, and end with a postictal period. GTC usually lasts around one to three minutes, but in some cases, the seizure can last longer than five minutes. If that’s the case, it’s considered a medical emergency, and you should call 911. During the postictal state, your child may experience the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble seeing or speaking
  • Bad headaches
  • Body aches

6. Myoclonic Seizures

Myoclonic seizures produce quick movements or sudden jerks caused by a group of muscles. They occur in clusters, sometimes ranging from several times in a single day to several days in a row. Each jerk typically lasts milliseconds, but the duration of irregular jerking can occur up to 30 minutes at a time. This type of seizure typically occurs in a child between the ages of three and 12 months and can persist for several years. Signs of a myoclonic seizure may include:

  • Quick, uncontrolled jerking motions
  • Unusual clumsiness
  • Hiccups and sudden jerking while falling asleep

What causes seizures in children?

There are many causes of seizures – regardless of age. From head injuries to drug or alcohol withdrawal, each condition can vary. Some of the most common causes of seizures in children include:

  • Abnormal levels of sodium or glucose in the blood
  • Brain infection
  • Brain tumor
  • Epilepsy
  • High fever
  • Venomous bites and stings

Epilepsy is one of the most common causes of seizures in children. Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that becomes apparent during infancy or early childhood. Although rare, it causes the child to experience several different types of seizures – including atonic, tonic-clonic, and absence. While Lennox-Gastaut syndrome can be caused by many underlying conditions, the exact cause is typically unidentified. This makes it very difficult to treat. If you suspect your child may have Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, you should take your child to see a doctor immediately.

Home Care for Children Who Experience Seizures

If you’ve already sought medical attention the first time seizures occurred, then you’ve likely become familiar with the signs and symptoms that come with an abnormal electrical signal. And, even though most seizures stop by themselves, you can’t sit and do nothing. To help protect your loved one while at home:

  • Try to prevent a fall by laying your child on the ground in a safe area
  • Cushion your child’s head
  • Loosen tight clothing, especially around the neck
  • Turn your child on their side – in case vomiting occurs
  • Stay with them until they recover
  • Cool the child if they’re experiencing a fever

Despite most seizures lasting a few seconds to a couple of minutes, each second can feel like a thousand. Try to remain calm and keep them comfortable. Pay attention to the time and call 911 if:

  • This is the first time your child is experiencing a seizure
  • The seizure lasts more than two to five minutes
  • Your child doesn’t awaken or behave normally after a seizure
  • Your child experienced a seizure while in water
  • This seizure appears different than normal
  • Another seizure starts soon after the first seizure ends

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 who experiences seizures. Homecare providers offer the support you or your loved one needs.

That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids are here to help. Our home care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent caregivers 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.