Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the brain and the nervous system. The brain has billions of neurons that communicate with one another through electrical impulses. Disturbances in the intensity of electrical impulses disturb the normal activity of the brain and result in a seizure, which causes changes in the behaviour, body movements, muscle spasms, consciousness and other symptoms.
An epileptic seizure – a fit or attack is a condition in which the electrical signals that control body’s functions, senses and thoughts are disrupted. Seizures start in the brain. Epilepsy can begin at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in children. All seizures are not epileptic because febrile convulsions due to sudden high fever and syncope (fainting) due to drop in blood pressure are not caused by disrupted brain activity.
Childhood seizures are usually brief events, which are controllable, but there are some seizures that are often serious. Which means they may prolong and persist and are associated with developmental delay or intellectual disability.
Facts About Epilepsy
Some seizures are subtle and very brief.
A child may have “ABSENCE SEIZURES” accompanied with brief episodes of loss of awareness and responsiveness. These types of seizures usually start between ages 2 to 12 years.
Absence seizures can happen numerous times in a day.
Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a complex epilepsy syndrome which can occur from age one to seven years. It is often difficult to manage. Developmental delay is seen in children with this type of syndrome.
Seizures usually respond well to medication and most children with epilepsy will enjoy a normal and active childhood.
What are the Causes of Epilepsy in Children?
The Common Causes of Childhood Epilepsy Include:
- Febrile Seizures due to fever
- Head Injury
- Infections of the brain & its coverings (Meningitis)
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Disorders of brain development
- Hydrocephalus (excess water in brain cavities)
- Genetic Causes
Note: More than 50% of epilepsy cases are idiopathic (have unknown cause)
Can childhood epilepsy continue into adulthood?
Majority of children with epilepsy gain complete control of their seizures as they grow into adults, but some children may outgrow their seizures and have seizures that continue into adulthood.
Diagnosis of Epilepsy in Children
Diagnosing epilepsy in children is a bit tricky as the seizures go away very quickly and other conditions such as low blood pressure or sugar levels, abnormal heart rhythm and emotional stress may resemble seizures. A detailed description of the seizure by parents, guardian or anyone who witnessed it is very important for making a comprehensive diagnosis. Divulgence of every single detail is very important. Therefore, a paediatric neurologist may talk to other kids and siblings of the affected child as well.
Furthermore, absence seizures are quite difficult to detect – owing to which they may go unnoticed for years. It may be normal for some children to daydream, but parents should watch their child carefully when they suddenly stop talking in between a conversation and stop doing something they are involved in. This could be a potent sign of absence seizure.
There are many other types of seizures ranging from simple to complex ones which are often mistaken for other conditions. Therefore, medical tests are important in diagnosing seizures. After a complete physical examination, a child neurologist may order blood tests, an EEG (to check electrical activity of the brain), a brain scan or MRI.
Children are diagnosed with epilepsy when they have seizures that occur more than once without any specific cause.
Dangers of Epilepsy in Children
Majority of the seizures are not very dangerous, but there are some which can be life-threatening. Status epilepticus is one such type wherein a child suffers from prolong seizure or recurrent seizures without regaining consciousness in between. It is common in children with epilepsy, but may also develop in children who have never had a seizure before. Remember, the risk associated with any seizure or an epileptic attack increases as long as the seizure prolongs or seizure goes on. Therefore, it is important for you to seek an immediate medical help or Emergency medical care for your child if a seizure lasts for more than five minutes or your child’s symptoms get worse or do not get better.