Epilepsy in Children: Symptoms, Causes, and How to Treat It

Apr 10 • 2015

Epilepsy is a disease that occurs in the central nervous system. It causes electrical signals in the brain to misfire, which can lead to seizures. While people can get epilepsy at any age, most new diagnoses occur in children. In honor of today’s National Walk for Epilepsy, we’ve compiled the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for epilepsy below.

In children, more than 50 percent of epilepsy cases show no visible issues in the brain. Oftentimes there is a family history of epilepsy or the condition is genetic. However, the genetic factors responsible for epilepsy are not yet known. In the rest of the cases, there is a specific brain problem that causes seizures. This includes infectious illnesses like meningitis, brain malformation during pregnancy, brain tumors, strokes, chromosome disorders, trauma to the brain from an accident in childhood, metabolic disorders, or blood vessel malformation.

Seizures are the most obvious symptom of epilepsy. You may notice your child experiencing rhythmic jerking or muscle spasms and may even have difficulty breathing. He may feel sleepy or disoriented after the seizure is over and may not remember that it occurred at all. These are symptoms of grand mal seizures. If your child has a loss of awareness accompanied by staring or blinking that stops or starts quickly, this could be a sign of a petit mal seizure. Lastly, partial seizures may be the issue if your child is making repetitive movements like chewing, clapping, or lip smacking followed by confusion.

Typically medication to prevent seizures is the first step your child’s doctor will take in terms of treatment. There are a variety of medications available, so he may try different options to determine what works best for your child’s needs. If medication is not successful, your child’s doctor may recommend:

  • A combination of medications
  • A special diet that is high in fat, low in carbohydrates, and low in protein
  • Implanting a vagal nerve stimulator
  • Surgery to remove the part of the brain affected by epilepsy

Even after starting medication and having success, some people experience breakthrough seizures. It is important to notify your doctor if this happens to your child.

Many children who are diagnosed with epilepsy grow out of having seizures when they reach their teenage years. If your child is showing symptoms, speak with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.