What is a seizure?
A seizure is a change in behavior, movement, feeling or level of consciousness that occurs after a sudden, abnormal electrical disturbance in the brain. The term “seizure” is often used interchangeably with “convulsion”. There’s a wide range of seizure types and the intensity, duration and frequency of seizures vary from one person to another.
What are the symptoms of a seizure?
The symptom you’ll see depends on the type of seizure. Your child is likely having a seizure if you observe the following:
- Blank staring
- Loss of consciousness; The convulsing child may look confused or sleepy after a seizure.
- Jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Drooling or frothing at the mouth
- Clenching of teeth or tongue biting
- Having sudden, rapid eye movements; the eyes may appear to roll up.
- Suddenly pass urine or stool on themselves involuntarily
- Sudden changes in mood
- Sudden unexplained falling
- Altered taste in the mouth
What causes seizures?
Seizures can be caused by a variety of health conditions. Anything that negatively affects the body can also cause changes in the brain that may lead to a seizure. Some examples include:
- Brain infections
- Head injuries
- Brain tumors
- Bleeding into the brain
- Lack of oxygen during birth
- Low levels of blood sugar, blood calcium, blood magnesium or other electrolyte problems
- Certain toxic chemicals or drugs of abuse
- Some children (between 6 months and 6 years of age) get seizures when they have a fever known as febrile convulsions.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a condition that causes people to have repeated seizures. If your child has had two or more seizures without a known cause that is epilepsy. Epilepsy persists for a long time. The cause of epilepsy is often unknown but may be related to brain injury and sometimes runs in the family. When your child has one convulsion, that does not necessarily mean they now have epilepsy.
Will my child need tests if he/she develops a seizure?
Yes. The doctor will do tests to learn more about the seizures ,assess the overall health of your child and identify conditions that may be triggering his seizures. The following tests are likely to be performed:
- EEG or electroencephalogram, is a test that records the electrical signals of the brain. Abnormal recordings may help diagnose epilepsy. It does not affect your child in any way.
- Brain MRI or Brain CT scan – These take detailed images of the brain and allow for assessment of brain injuries and abnormalities.
- A complete blood count (CBC). This test helps the doctor establish a baseline and can identify infections, allergies, and anemia.
- A lumbar puncture or spinal tap may be done to cerebral spinal fluid and test it for infection or other problems
- A blood chemistry panel. This test includes an evaluation of sodium, potassium, calcium ,magnesium and blood sugar levels
- Blood tests may also help identify problems affecting kidney and liver function that may affect the choice of treatment and to monitor for the possible side effects that medications may cause.
- If seizures continue to occur despite treatment or side effects develop the blood levels of medications may be evaluated.
How are seizures treated?
The aim of treatment is to stop or reduce the number of times seizures occur.
- In children treatment is usually done with anti-seizure medicines. These medicines do not cure epilepsy, but they can help prevent seizures. There are many types of anti-seizure medicines. The right one for your child will depend on the type of seizure, age of the child, the potential side effects, cost, and how convenient it will be to use. Medicines given to use at home may be in the form of capsules, tablets, sprinkles, or syrup; some may be given into the rectum or in the nose. In hospital some anti-seizure medicines are given by injection or through the vein.
Anti-seizure medicines usually work well to prevent seizures. But if they don’t control your child’s epilepsy, your healthcare provider may advise other possible ways of treatment .These can include:
- A special diet that is very high in fat, and very low in carbohydrates. It’s also called a ketogenic diet. It can prevent seizures in some children but doesn’t work for every child.
- Brain surgery: if your child’s seizures are difficult to control and always start at a specific part of the brain that part may be removed through surgery.
- A device called a “vagus nerve stimulator” that goes in the chest can help control seizures
What should I know about anti-seizure medicines?
They are also called anticonvulsant medications. They work by keeping electrical impulses in the brain to a normal level so that they don’t become excessive and uncontrolled.
Medicines that work for one child may not work the same for another. Sometimes your doctor may give your child more than one anti-seizure medicine to be used together. The dose of the medicines may be varied over time.
Blood tests may be done to see how the body is affected by the medicines.
You will need to inform your doctor about the other medicines that your child is using. Anti-seizure medicines can interact with other drugs and alter the way they work.
Common side effects of anti-seizure medicines include: tiredness, dizziness, weight gain and rashes. Some people may also have difficulties in thinking, remembering things and talking. More seriously a person could have severe rashes, liver problems or even depression. All in all your specialist will prescribe this medicine because the ills of a convulsion override the side effects of the medicine.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
You should get in touch with your child’s doctor if:
- Your child’s symptoms do not get better.
Your child has more seizures than usual.
- The seizures last longer than usual.
- Your child has side effects from medicine.