Pediatric epilepsy and seizure disorder symptoms & causes

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A seizure happens when cells in the brain fire or “talk” too much, temporarily disrupting the brain’s normal electrical signals. Epilepsy and seizures have many possible causes, including:

  • head injuries
  • birth trauma
  • congenital conditions (conditions that your child is born with) such as brain development disorders
  • brain tumors
  • heredity
  • degenerative brain disorders
  • stroke
  • metabolic problems

In more than half of patients, however, a cause cannot be found.

What are the symptoms of epilepsy?

Because the brain controls all aspects of the body, seizures can have many different effects on a child depending on where in the brain the abnormal electrical activity occurs. Seizures can be subtle and barely noticeable or very frightening to witness. Symptoms can include:

  • staring
  • tremors, convulsions or jerking movements in the arms and legs
  • stiffening of the body
  • loss of consciousness
  • breathing problems
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • falling suddenly for no apparent reason
  • not responding to noise or words for short periods of time
  • appearing confused or in a haze
  • extreme sleepiness and irritability when waking up in the morning
  • head nodding or dropping
  • periods of rapid eye blinking
  • changes in vision and speech
  • vomiting

What should I do if I think my child is having a seizure?

The most important thing to do is to protect your child from injury. Here are some guidelines:

  • Ease your child to the floor, if sitting or standing.
  • Keep your child’s head from falling backward. You can place a soft object underneath.
  • Keep your child on his or her side, to prevent choking (in case of vomiting).
  • Move tables, chairs or other hard objects away, or gently slide your child away from them.
  • Loosen tight clothing.
  • Do not try to open your child’s mouth or place anything between her teeth. This could injure her gums or break her teeth.
  • Do not try to stop your child’s movement or try to “shake him out of it.”
  • Stay with your child until the seizure stops.

Contact your child’s doctor right away, or call 911 for emergency help if:

  • your child has trouble breathing or his skin becomes blue
  • the seizure lasts more than five minutes
  • your child remains unresponsive for 30 minutes after the seizure
  • a new seizure occurs or there is a change in seizure pattern

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- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
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