Seizures happen when brain cells over-fire, temporarily disrupting the brain’s normal electrical signals. They’re quite common, especially among children, and they have a wide range of causes. Certain seizures are easy to recognize (jerking, twitching, stiffness), while others don’t have any outward signs. If your child has seizures, it doesn’t necessarily mean that her brain is being harmed, but some seizures can cause damage to a child’s brain.
No matter what your child’s specific situation may be, we at Boston Children's Hospital know that seizures can be frightening, and you’re probably looking for information that will help you understand what’s going on and find the care your child needs. We invite you explore this site to learn more about seizures, how doctors diagnose them and the treatments they use to help children live seizure-free and to protect them from complications.
Many people think of seizures as involving convulsions in a child’s whole body or a temporary loss of consciousness. But with some types of seizures, a child and the people around her may not notice anything out of the ordinary.
Seizures are very common: Researchers believe that about 5 percent of people in the United States experience at least one seizure.
Seizures are more common in children than in adults, and infants and young children are affected especially often.
Epilepsy is a condition in which a person is more susceptible to having unprovoked seizures. A child may have epilepsy if she has had two or more unprovoked seizures.
Sometimes, seizures are triggered by a disease or injury, but for most children, there is no detectable cause.
What appears to be a seizure is often another condition, such as fainting or a stroke.
Treatments for seizures have expanded greatly in recent years. Today, doctors use many different medications to control seizures. For some children with epilepsy, they also use a specialized diet called the ketogenic diet or, in serious cases, a variety of brain surgeries.
In some cases, seizures are associated with neurological conditions and problems with learning and behavior. Neurologists and other specialists work to identify these sorts of problems and intervene to help your child both physically and emotionally.
The Boston Children’s Hospital approach
In 1944, Boston Children’s neurologist William Lennox, MD, developed the Boston 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.
We care for children who have epilepsy or who have experienced seizures through our Epilepsy Program, Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program and programs dedicated to caring for children with disorders that can cause seizures. If your child’s seizures are caused by an underlying condition, specialists experienced in treating that condition work closely with our seizure specialists to provide the best possible care for your child.
Our seizure specialists are part of the Boston Children’s Brain Center, which is made up of more than 100 doctors, including some of the world’s top pediatric neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists and developmental behavioral pediatricians. Because our team is so comprehensive, we’re able to thoroughly evaluate suspected seizure disorders and consider all possibilities for treatment.
We also have active research programs developing new treatment methods for children—from infants to teens—who have experienced seizures.
Our epilepsy specialists provide outpatient services in Boston as well as at our satellite locations around the Boston area.
Visit the tabs within these pages for overviews of seizure types and symptoms and for guidelines on what to do when a seizure happens.
Seizures: Reviewed by Blaise Bourgeois, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2010