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Epilepsy \| Seizures \| Types \| Causes \| Symptoms \| Treatments in Children

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition in which disturbances to the brain's normal electrical activity cause recurrent seizures or brief episodes of altered consciousness. There are more than 40 different types, and they tend to fall into two categories:

Generalised seizures affect the whole brain and include tonic-clonic seizures (previously known as grand mal and most common in children), infantile spasms (West syndrome) and absence seizures (previously known as petit mal) when the child appears to be daydreaming or 'switched off', but is in fact momentarily unconscious. They often go unrecognised despite occurring many times a day.

Myoclonic seizures are partial seizures that start in just one area of the brain and may be simple (the person remains aware of what's going on) or complex (the person loses awareness). Complex partial seizures include temporal lobe epilepsy and psychomotor seizures.

Symptoms of epilepsy

Because epilepsy may affect any part of the brain, symptoms vary. Tonic-clonic seizures, the most common in children, begin with unusual or irritable behaviour.

The muscles then suddenly contract in a spasm, forcing air out of the lungs and stiffening the body, which jerks uncontrollably. The person may let out a cry as they fall down unconscious.

It may cause the person to:

Breathe irregularly.

Appear pale.

Drool.

Bite their tongue.

Become temporarily incontinent.

After a couple of minutes the seizure stops, followed by a period of drowsiness, confusion and sleep. Although this is the commonest pattern, but every seizure is different.

In absences, the child simply seems remote from everyone for a few seconds, staring or looking vague, as if daydreaming.

Epilepsy - causes and risk factors

In up to 60 per cent of cases there's no obvious cause. Possible reasons include malformations of the brain, damage to the brain (for example, following infection during pregnancy or brain haemorrhage during birth), head injury, brain tumours, low blood sugar or calcium, meningitis, encephalitis and exposure to poisons.

There are also many genetic conditions that can lead to epilepsy. Seizures may occur at any age from birth onwards. Most occur suddenly, but possible triggers include:

Stress.

Patterns of light (about five per cent of people with epilepsy are sensitive to flickering light, such as on TV).

Illness (especially fever).

Lack of sleep.

Diagnosis of epilepsy can be difficult as there's not a single test that confirms it. Tests include an electroencephalogram which measures brain electrical activity, brain scans and blood tests.

Epilepsy - treatment and recovery

The main aim during a seizure is to keep the child as safe as possible. Put them in the recovery position, loosen clothing, protect from injury and reassure them.

Don't try to restrain them, put anything in their mouths, move them unless they're in danger or give them food. Get urgent medical advice or call an ambulance.

Epilepsy is treated using anticonvulsant drugs or brain surgery in a few cases.

The outlook for someone with epilepsy varies. Some children have few attacks and lead a normal life, others grow out of their epilepsy, while for some it becomes a chronic condition that impacts on every aspect of their lives. Ensure your child has expert care.

Support at school

The majority of children with epilepsy attend mainstream schools. Only a minority who have epilepsy and learning difficulties, or severe epilepsy, need to attend special schools.

Many children with epilepsy can under-achieve at school, as the condition and anti-epileptic drugs can impair the ability to learn. Recent treatments cause fewer problems with memory, and completely control seizures in most children. Low expectation, poor school attendance and low self-esteem can all contribute to poor school performance. Good communication between school, parents, child and doctor is essential.

If it's likely that a child will have a seizure at school, it's often worthwhile educating the other children in the class about seizures and epilepsy. 

Children with epilepsy should be encouraged to join in school activities and shouldn't feel restricted by the condition.

Disclaimer

Information taken from BBC Health

All content within BBC Health is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. The BBC is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the BBC Health website. The BBC is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites.  Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.