Learn About Epilepsy in Children

What is the definition of Epilepsy in Children?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures over time.

A seizure is a sudden change in the electrical and chemical activity in the brain. A single seizure that does not happen again is NOT epilepsy.

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What are the alternative names for Epilepsy in Children?

Seizure disorder - children; Convulsion - childhood epilepsy; Medically refractory childhood epilepsy; Anticonvulsant - childhood epilepsy; Antiepileptic drug - childhood epilepsy; AED - childhood epilepsy

What are the causes of Epilepsy in Children?

Epilepsy may be due to a medical condition or injury that affects the brain. Or the cause may be unknown.

Common causes of epilepsy include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Damage or scarring after infections of the brain
  • Birth defects that involve the brain
  • Brain injury that occurs during or near birth
  • Metabolic disorders present at birth (such as phenylketonuria)
  • Benign or malignant brain tumor, often very small
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
  • Stroke
  • Other illnesses that damage or destroy brain tissue

Epileptic seizures usually start between ages 5 and 20. But they can happen at any age. There may be a family history of seizures or epilepsy.

A febrile seizure is a convulsion in a child triggered by a fever. Most of the time, a febrile seizure is not a sign that the child has epilepsy.

What are the symptoms of Epilepsy in Children?

Symptoms vary from child to child. Some children may simply stare. Others may shake violently and lose alertness. The movements or symptoms of a seizure may depend on the part of the brain that is affected.

Your child's health care provider can tell you more about the specific type of seizure your child may have:

  • Absence (petit mal) seizure: Staring spells
  • Generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure: Involves the entire body, including aura, rigid muscles, and loss of alertness
  • Partial (focal) seizure: Can involve any of the symptoms described above, depending on where in the brain the seizure starts

Most of the time, the seizure is similar to the one before it. Some children have a strange sensation before a seizure. Sensations may be tingling, smelling an odor that is not actually there, feeling fear or anxiety for no reason or having a sense of déjà vu (feeling that something has happened before). This is called an aura.

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What are the current treatments for Epilepsy in Children?

Treatment for epilepsy includes:

  • Medicines
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Surgery

If your child's epilepsy is due to a tumor, abnormal blood vessels, or bleeding in the brain, surgery may be needed.

Medicines to prevent seizures are called anticonvulsants or antiepileptic drugs. These may reduce the number of future seizures.

  • These medicines are taken by mouth. The type of medicine prescribed depends on the type of seizure your child has.
  • The dosage may need to be changed from time to time. The provider may order regular blood tests to check for side effects.
  • Always make sure your child takes the medicine on time and as directed. Missing a dose can cause your child to have a seizure. DO NOT stop or change medicines on your own. Talk to the provider first.

Many epilepsy drugs may affect your child's bone health. Talk to your child's provider about whether your child needs vitamins and other supplements.

Epilepsy that is not well controlled after trying a number of antiseizure drugs is called "medically refractory epilepsy." In this case, the doctor may recommend surgery to:

  • Remove the abnormal brain cells causing the seizures.
  • Place a vagal nerve stimulator (VNS). This device is similar to a heart pacemaker. It can help reduce the number of seizures.

Some children are placed on a special diet to help prevent seizures. The most popular one is the ketogenic diet. A diet low in carbohydrates, such as the Atkins diet, also may be helpful. Be sure to discuss these options with your child's provider before trying them.

Epilepsy is often a lifelong or chronic illness. Important management issues include:

  • Taking medicines
  • Staying safe, such as never swimming alone, fall-proofing your home and avoiding activities that could lead to a fall
  • Managing stress and sleep
  • Avoiding alcohol and drug abuse
  • Keeping up in school
  • Managing other illnesses

Managing these lifestyle or medical issues at home can be a challenge. Be sure to talk with your child's provider if you have concerns.

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What are the support groups for Epilepsy in Children?

The stress of being a caretaker of a child with epilepsy can often be helped by joining a support group. In these groups, members share common experiences and problems.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Epilepsy in Children?

Most children with epilepsy live a normal life. Certain types of childhood epilepsy go away or improve with age, usually in the late teens or 20s. If your child does not have seizures for a few years, the provider may stop medicines.

For many children, epilepsy is a lifelong condition. In these cases, the medicines need to be continued.

Children who have developmental disorders in addition to epilepsy may face challenges throughout their life.

Knowing more about the condition will help you take better care of your child's epilepsy.

What are the possible complications of Epilepsy in Children?

Complications may include:

  • Difficulty learning
  • Breathing in food or saliva into the lungs during a seizure, which can cause aspiration pneumonia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Injury from falls, bumps, or self-caused bites during a seizure
  • Permanent brain damage (stroke or other damage)
  • Side effects of medicines
When should I contact a medical professional for Epilepsy in Children?

Call 911 or the local emergency number if:

  • This is the first time your child has a seizure
  • A seizure occurs in a child who is not wearing a medical ID bracelet (which has instructions explaining what to do)

If your child has had seizures before, call 911 or the local emergency number for any of these emergency situations:

  • The seizure is longer than the child normally has or the child has an unusual number of seizures
  • The child has repeated seizures over a few minutes
  • The child has repeated seizures in which consciousness or normal behavior is not regained between them (status epilepticus)
  • The child gets injured during the seizure
  • The child has difficulty breathing

Contact the provider if your child has new symptoms:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rash
  • Side effects of medicines, such as drowsiness, restlessness, or confusion
  • Tremors or abnormal movements, or problems with coordination

Contact the provider even if your child is normal after the seizure has stopped.

How do I prevent Epilepsy in Children?

There is no known way to prevent epilepsy. Proper diet and sleep may decrease the chances of seizures in children with epilepsy.

Reduce the risk of head injury during risky activities. This can decrease the likelihood of a brain injury that leads to seizures and epilepsy.

What are the latest Epilepsy in Children Clinical Trials?
A Phase I Open-Label Pilot Study to Investigate the Feasibility, Safety, Tolerability and Efficacy of Daily Administration of Tricaprilin in Subjects With Infantile Spasms

Summary: The purpose of this study is to assess the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of tricaprilin in subjects with infantile spasms. This is a single-arm, open-label, pilot study in up to 10 subjects with infantile spasms.

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A Multicenter, Open-Label, Randomized, Active Comparator Study to Evaluate the Efficacy, Safety, and Pharmacokinetics of Lacosamide in Neonates With Repeated Electroencephalographic Neonatal Seizures

Summary: The purpose of the study is to evaluate the efficacy of lacosamide (LCM) versus an Active Comparator chosen based on standard of care (StOC) in severe and nonsevere seizure burden (defined as total minutes of electroencephalographic neonatal seizures (ENS) per hour) in neonates with seizures that are not adequately controlled with previous anti-epileptic drug (AED) treatment.

What are the Latest Advances for Epilepsy in Children?
Analysis of Neurodevelopment in Children Born Extremely Preterm Treated With Acid Suppressants Before Age 2 Years.
Tolerance and response to ketogenic therapy in neonates and infants younger than 4 months. Case series in a hospital center in Medellin, Colombia.
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Oral desensitization with Ketocal® in an infant with ketogenic diet and cow's milk protein allergy.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: May 02, 2022
Published By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Dwivedi R, Ramanujam B, Chandra PS, et al. Surgery for drug-resistant epilepsy in children. N Engl J Med. 2017;377(17):1639-1647. PMID: 29069568 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29069568/.

Ghatan S. Pediatric epilepsy surgery. In: Winn HR, ed. Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 267.

Kanner AM, Ashman E, Gloss D, et al. Practice guideline update summary: efficacy and tolerability of the new antiepileptic drugs I: treatment of new-onset epilepsy: report of the American Epilepsy Society and the Guideline Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Epilepsy Curr. 2018;18(4):260-268. PMID: 30254527 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30254527/.

Mikati MA, Tchapyjnikov D. Seizures in childhood. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 611.

Pearl PL. Overview of seizures and epilepsy in children. In: Swaiman KF, Ashwal S, Ferriero DM, et al, eds. Swaiman's Pediatric Neurology: Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 61.