Things to Know and Expect if Your Child has Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It can affect people of all ages, including children, and can have a significant impact on their lives.
Epilepsy is common. It's estimated that 1 in 26 people develops the disorder, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy affects people of all genders, races, ethnic backgrounds and ages.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can take many different forms, ranging from brief lapses in consciousness to full-blown convulsions. Epilepsy can affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, and can have a significant impact on their quality of life.
There are many different types of epilepsy, and the symptoms and severity of the disorder can vary widely from person to person. Some people may experience seizures only occasionally, while others may have them several times a day. Some people with epilepsy may experience other symptoms as well, such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and mood changes.
Seizure symptoms can vary widely. Some people may lose awareness during a seizure but others don't. Some people stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure. Others may repeatedly twitch their arms or legs, movements known as convulsions or spasms.
See also: Seizure: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms, and Types
Having a single seizure doesn't mean you have epilepsy. Epilepsy is diagnosed if you've had at least two unprovoked seizures at least 24 hours apart. Unprovoked seizures don't have a clear cause.
Treatment with medicines or sometimes surgery can control seizures for most people with epilepsy. Some people require lifelong treatment. For others, seizures eventually go away. Some children with epilepsy may outgrow the condition with age.
Seizure symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. Because epilepsy is caused by certain activity in the brain, seizures can affect any brain process. Seizure symptoms may include:
- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Stiff muscles
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Psychological symptoms such as fear, anxiety or deja vu
Sometimes, people with epilepsy may have changes in their behavior. They also may have symptoms of psychosis.
Most people with epilepsy tend to have the same type of seizure each time. Symptoms are usually similar from episode to episode.
Warning signs of seizures
Some people with focal seizures experience warning signs in the moments before a seizure begins. These warning signs are known as aura. They might include a feeling in the stomach. Or they might include an emotion such as fear. Some people might feel deja vu. Aura also might be a taste or a smell. It might even be visual, such as a steady or flashing light, a color, or a shape. Some people may experience dizziness and loss of balance. Others may see things that aren't there, known as hallucinations.
Seizures are classified as either focal or generalized, based on how and where the brain activity causing the seizure begins.
When seizures appear to result from activity in just one area of the brain, they're called focal seizures. These seizures fall into two categories:
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness. Once called simple partial seizures, these seizures don't cause a loss of consciousness. They may alter emotions or change the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. Some people experience deja vu. This type of seizure also may result in involuntary jerking of one body part, such as an arm or a leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and flashing lights.
- Focal seizures with impaired awareness. Once called complex partial seizures, these seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. This type of seizure may seem like being in a dream. During a focal seizure with impaired awareness, people may stare into space and not respond in typical ways to the environment. They also may perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles.
Symptoms of focal seizures may be confused with other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy or mental illness. A thorough examination and testing are needed to distinguish epilepsy from other disorders.
Types of focal seizures include:
- Frontal lobe seizures. Frontal lobe seizures begin in the front of the brain. This is the part of the brain that controls movement. Frontal lobe seizures cause people to move their heads and eyes to one side. They won't respond when spoken to and may scream or laugh. They might extend one arm and flex the other arm. They also might make repetitive movements such as rocking or bicycle pedaling.
- Temporal lobe seizures. Temporal lobe seizures begin in the areas of the brain called the temporal lobes. The temporal lobes process emotions and play a role in short-term memory. People who have these seizures often experience an aura. The aura may include sudden emotion such as fear or joy, a sudden taste or smell, a feeling of deja vu, or a rising sensation in the stomach. During the seizure, people may lose awareness of their surroundings, stare into space, smack their lips, swallow or chew repeatedly, or have unusual movements of their fingers.
- Occipital lobe seizures. These seizures begin in the area of the brain called the occipital lobe. This lobe affects vision and how people see. People who have this type of seizure may have hallucinations. Or they may lose some or all of their vision during the seizure. These seizures also might cause eye blinking or make the eyes move.
When to seek an emergency room
Seek immediate medical help if any of the following occurs:
- The seizure lasts more than five minutes
- Breathing or consciousness doesn't return after the seizure stops
- A second seizure follows immediately
- You have a high fever
- You're pregnant
- You have diabetes
- You've injured yourself during the seizure
- You continue to have seizures even though you've been taking anti-seizure medicine
If you experience a seizure for the first time, visit or call the nearest emergency room for the medical advice.
We have ER locations across the DFW metroplex that are open and here to help you 24/7 for whatever spring throws your way.
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