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Seizure—Child

Definition

A seizure is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It may be mild or severe and cause problems, such as jerking motions of the limbs or body. It can be a symptom or a side effect of a more serious health problem.

Generalized Seizure
Generalized seizure

Abnormal and excessive electrical activity in the brain.

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Causes

Sometimes the cause is not known. Some common causes are:

  • Health problems like epilepsy
  • Injury or trauma to the head
  • Infections, such as meningitis
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Accidental poisoning
  • Certain medical problems, such as:
    • Low blood sugar
    • Very high fever
    • Electrolyte levels that are not normal
  • Fluid buildup in the brain
  • Diseases or deformities present at birth

Risk Factors

Things that may raise a child's risk of seizure are:

  • Having had a prior seizure
  • Having a very high fever
  • Having health problems like:
    • Epilepsy
    • Brain tumors
    • Brain infections
  • Having a family history of seizures.

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Staring, or a dazed look
  • Jerking motions of the limbs or body
  • Problems breathing
  • Eyes rolling back in the head
  • Crying or moaning
  • Vomiting
  • Urinating

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Blood tests may be taken. The fluid around your child's spine may also be tested. This can be done with a lumbar puncture.

Images may be taken of the child's brain. This can be done with:

The child's brain activity may be tested. This can be done with an EEG.

Treatment

Some seizures will not need to be treated. Most children will outgrow seizures caused by fever by about 5 years of age.

Other seizures may stop once the underlying cause is treated. The child may need to stay at a hospital until seizures are controlled. Treatments to help control seizures may include:

Medications

Anti-seizure medicine can reduce the number of seizures or stop them completely. It may be given by IV for severe or frequent seizures. Pills can be given for seizures that are more sporadic.

Other Treatment

Some seizures may not respond well to medicine. Other possible treatments include:

  • Ketogenic diet—a strict diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fat. It may help stop seizures in some people. It is less effective for a type of seizure called focal seizures.
  • Vagal stimulation—a device is implanted just under the skin. It will send signals to the vagus nerve. It may interrupt seizure signals.
  • Surgery—to remove the area of brain causing the seizure.

Prevention

There are no known ways to prevent seizures.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
https://www.healthychildren.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

HealthLink BC
https://www.healthlinkbc.ca

Epilepsy Ontario
http://www.epilepsyontario.org

REFERENCES:

Febrile seizure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/febrile-seizure. Updated November 30, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2020.

Hogan T. Seizure disorders in childhood. Loyola University Medical Education Network website. Available at: http://www.meddean.luc.edu/lumen/MedED/pedneuro/epilepsy.htm. Accessed January 3, 2020.

Kimia AA, Bachur RG, et al. Febrile seizures: emergency medicine perspective. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2015 Jun;27(3):292-297.

Neonatal seizures. Intensive Care Nursery Staff House Manual. UCSF Children's Hospital website. Available at: https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/pdf/manuals/48_Seizures.pdf. Published 2004. Accessed January 3, 2020.

Seizure in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seizure-in-children. Updated August 8, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 7/21/2020