Pediatric epilepsy and seizure disorder in Children

  • Overview

    Epilepsy is a condition in which a child has unprovoked seizures. It’s a disorder that affects many people, especially children. But that doesn’t change the fact that seizures are frightening, and epilepsy can feel like mystery. If your child has started having seizures or has been diagnosed with epilepsy, we at Boston Children's Hospital know that’s a mystery you want to get to the bottom of.

    • Seizures happen when some part of the brain over-fires, disrupting its normal electrical signals.
       
    • There are many different types of seizures: Some are easy to recognize, as when your child’s body shakes and he becomes temporarily less aware, whereas some seizures don’t have any outward signs at all.
       
    • A child may have epilepsy if he has had two or more unprovoked seizures.
       
    • About 1 percent of children in the United States develop some type of epilepsy. Children are affected more frequently than adults.
       
    • Sometimes epilepsy is caused by an underlying disease, injury or brain development disorder, but for most children, there is no detectable cause.
       
    • In some cases, the abnormal brain activity that happens during a seizure can cause damage to the brain. So seizures and epilepsy are a special concern in children, because children’s brains are busy growing and changing.

    Treatments for epilepsy have expanded greatly in recent years. Today, doctors use many different medications, specialized diet and a wide range of surgical strategies to manage children’s seizures. Finding a treatment approach that works for your child may be a long and difficult process. However, most children with epilepsy achieve good seizure control with treatment. The goal is to help your child live seizure-free.

    Epilepsy sometimes has other effects on a child’s life, including changes in behavior and personality or other neurological conditions and learning difficulties. Identifying these sorts of problems and intervening to help your child both physically and emotionally are important aspects of caring for a child with epilepsy.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches epilepsy

    In 1944, Children’s neurologist William Lennox, MD, developed the Children’s Seizure Unit, the first comprehensive pediatric epilepsy unit in the world. Since then, we have stayed at the forefront of pediatric epilepsy research and care.

    Today we are nationally recognized as a Level 4 Epilepsy Center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers for delivering the highest level of care, including comprehensive evaluation, testing, treatment and counseling for children with epilepsy and seizures. We are one of only a few Level 4 Epilepsy Centers in the country entirely dedicated to caring for children.

    Our Epilepsy Program integrates specialists from several fields, including neurology, neurosurgery, radiology and nutrition. That means that as we care for your child, we’re able to consider every treatment possibility for him. We work as a team, carefully coordinating our treatment plans with each other.

    Our epilepsy services include:

    • experienced pediatric diagnostic laboratories
       
    • advanced testing, such as intraoperative MRI, to make surgeries as precise and effective as possible
       
    • neuropsychological testing to help locate epileptic brain tissue and to help your child function at his highest possible level
       
    • social workers and Child Life specialists who are experienced in working with children with epilepsy and their families
       
    • expertise in implementing the ketogenic diet to manage seizures
       
    • surgical placement and medical management of vagal nerve stimulation therapy
       
    • an extremely active epilepsy research program, including:
      • drug trials
      • innovations that make surgery safer and more effective
      • development of entirely new treatment methods for children with epilepsy

    Our experience caring for children with epilepsy makes us sensitive to the challenges that epilepsy may bring to your child and your whole family. We place special importance on supporting your family and making your child’s care as easy for him as we can—whether he’s receiving ongoing treatment with us or coming to Children’s only for a diagnostic test.

    Our epilepsy specialists provide outpatient services in Boston, Lexington, Waltham and Wilmington.

     Transitioning from pediatric to adult care
     More than 9 million children in the United States are living with a chronic illness. Every year, 500,000 of these children turn 18. As they join their fellow adolescents in struggling to achieve optimal independence, they also face a serious issue they may not be prepared for: the transition of their medical care. Read Children’s tips for helping kids – and their families – make this key transition.

    Epilepsy: Reviewed by Blaise Bourgeois, MD, and Joseph Madsen, MD
    © Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2010

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