What is Epilepsy?

What are seizures?

Seizures are changes in awareness or behavior brought about by an abnormal discharge of electrical energy in the brain. A seizure may last a few seconds, a few minutes or longer. It might be a convulsion, a brief stare, and unusual movement of the body, or an unusual sensation.

Seizures are a common disorder of childhood and adolescence. Some seizures happen because of a very high fever. Some happen because of an illness that affects the brain.

Epilepsy is the name given to seizures that happen more than once in an otherwise healthy youngster, or when the child has a physical condition that causes seizures from time to time.

Why are seizures sometimes hard to recognize?

Not all seizures are convulsions. Seeing a child in the grip of a convulsion is a frightening experience for parents and almost always ends with a visit to the doctor. But convulsions are just one type of seizure that a child or teenager may have.

Other kinds of seizures are hard to recognize because they last such a short time and they look so much like the normal things that children do. The following are some of the signs that may mean a young child is having seizures:

  • Short attention blackouts that look like daydreaming.
  • Sudden falls for no reason.
  • Lack of response for brief periods.
  • Dazed behavior.
  • Unusual sleepiness and irritability when wakened from sleep.
  • Head nodding.
  • Rapid blinking.
  • Frequent complaints from the child that things look, sound, taste, smell or feel funny.
  • Clusters of grabbing movements with both arms in babies lying on their backs.
  • Sudden stomach pain followed by confusion and sleepiness.
  • Repeated movements that look out of place or unnatural.

Sometimes seizures start in the teen years. These seizures, too, may be hard to recognize. It is easy to mistake the behavior they produce for signs of drugs and alcohol abuse. The following behavior or reported feelings may be signs that a teenager is having seizures:

  • A blank stare, followed by chewing, picking at clothes, mumbling, random movements.
  • Sudden fear, anger, or panic for no reason.
  • Muscle jerks of arms, legs, or body especially in the early morning.
  • Odd changes in the way things look, sound, smell or feel.
  • Memory gaps.
  • Dazed behavior. Being unable to talk or communicate for a short time.

Why is it important to recognize childhood seizures?

Early recognition and treatment is important because a child who goes on having seizures because nobody has noticed them may have to face additional problems later on, problems like:

  • Learning Disabilities – because those brief blanking out seizures are making it difficult to follow instruction and understand the lessons at school;
  • Safety risks – because sudden loss of awareness in certain situations (like while climbing or in water) can lead to injury;
    Behavior problems – because the world seems disorderly. The child keeps missing things other people have understood, and doesn’t know why;
  • Social problems – because the child, his family, and others with whom he comes in contact will not understand the cause or nature of unusual actions or behavior.

How can the doctor tell if a child has Epilepsy?

First, the doctor will ask a number of questions about the child’s health, the family’s health, and the changes in behavior that the parents are concerned about. The doctor will ask about injuries, the child’s birth, the mother’s pregnancy, will do a careful physical examination, and will order blood and urine tests and an EEG.

The letters “EEG” stand for “electroencephalogram,” which is a recording of electrical activity in the brain. The recording is made through wires pasted on the child’s head. It does not hurt the child in any way. The doctor looks for special patterns in the recording to see whether seizures are taking place.

Sometimes other tests, like brain x-rays or scans, are ordered. They show the doctor whether there is anything unusual structurally about the child’s brain that might be causing seizures.

What happens if Epilepsy is diagnosed?

If the doctor discovers that a child has epilepsy, he or she will probably prescribe medicine to prevent seizures.

Some childhood seizure disorders are more difficult to control that others, but in general chances are good that the medicine will work well so long as it is taken regularly. If none of the medicines work, a special diet or even surgery may be recommended.

Today’s medicines do not cure epilepsy. However, research has shown that children who have complete control of seizures with the medicine for a few years have an excellent chance of being able to live free of the seizures and the medicine in the future.

That’s why it is so important to recognize childhood seizures and see if they need treatment. Doing so offers the child with epilepsy the best possible chance of a normal childhood and a brighter future in adult life.