Epilepsy in childhood

Epilepsy in childhood

Information about the diagnosis and treatment of childhood epilepsy and how epilepsy may affect a child’s life.

Epilepsy can start at any age in childhood. In the UK, epilepsy affects around 60,000 children and young people under 18.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition (affecting the brain and nervous system) where a person has a tendency to have seizures that start as a disruption of signals  in the brain. Some children stop having seizures after a period of being on treatment, and others need treatment for long periods. There are few types of epilepsies that resolve without treatment.

Find out more about epilepsy at Epilepsy Action.

What happens during a seizure?

There are many different types of epileptic seizure depending on which area of their brain is affected, such as jerking movements of body, repetitive movements or  unusual sensations such as strange taste or smell. In some seizures you might be aware of what is happening, you maybe unconscious and not aware of the seizure afterwards or you may have a seizure while you are asleep.  

Some seizures are  more common in childhood than adulthood (for example, absence seizures which can be very brief staring episodes).  There are seizures that happen only in children, such as infantile spasms, (repeated brief jerks of body).

Not all seizures are epileptic. Events such as fainting episodes, day dreaming episodes ,febrile convulsions and psychogenic seizures  can mimic a seizure that are not coming from disrupted brain activity.

Why does my child have epilepsy?

Some children develop epilepsy from a structural change in the brain, person’s genetic tendency to have seizures, or a change in the way body’s chemical reactions work. Your doctor will arrange investigations to look in to these reasons. Sometimes all these tests come back normal, and it is not always possible to find the cause of epilepsy.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Getting a diagnosis is not always easy as there is no single test that can diagnose epilepsy. Doctors gather lots of different information including getting you to describe the seizure and any video recordings  you may have, and an  EEG test. An EEG test is painless, and it records the electrical activity of the brain.  

How is my child’s epilepsy treated?

Most people with epilepsy take anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) to control their seizures.. Like all drugs, AEDs can cause side effects for some children. Some side effects go away as the body gets used to the medication, or if the dose is adjusted. If you are concerned about your child taking AEDs you can talk to their paediatrician, epilepsy nurse, GP or pharmacist. Changing or stopping your child’s medication without first talking to the doctor can cause seizures to start again or make seizures worse. AEDs work for most children. If AEDs don’t help your child, their doctor may consider other treatments such as ketogenic diet, epilepsy surgery, vagus nerve stimulator etc.

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