Seizures are caused when the neurons in the brain send signals at elevated rates and in abnormal ways. Usually this means they are excessively active, and also often take on a synchronous characteristic where they activate in abnormal patterns.
Seizures can vary in severity, so while many children experience those that cause them to collapse and shake uncontrollably, some children may simply stare off into space and seem to be in a daydream they have difficulty waking up from.
Seizures are most often associated with epilepsy, which is a seizure disorder. Children who experience multiple or chronic seizures may be diagnosed with epilepsy. However, seizures can occur due to brain trauma, drugs or other biochemical imbalances in non-epileptic children.
Child seizures can take on a wide variety of manifestations that range from the sudden, powerful feeling of a particular emotion to uncontrolled muscle spasms. Seizures in children can be difficult to diagnose because of this. While everyone can recognize a seizure that causes involuntary shaking and loss of muscle control, a seizure that causes a migraine headache might not be detected.
Type of Seizures
There are two main types of seizure diagnoses: focal seizures and generalized seizures.
- Focal seizures, also called partial seizures, happen when the abnormal brain activity that creates the seizure is localized to one specific area of the brain.
- Generalized seizures happen when the abnormal neurological activity happens across the entire brain.
This type of seizure can sometimes be confused with simple daydreaming. Absence seizures in children can result in a lack of responsiveness in the child, even when touched. The child may appear to be staring off into space and groggy, but then will be immediately alert and active once the seizure has ended.
Children that experience myoclonic seizures will not lose consciousness, but will be subjected to one or many quick jerks of one or all limbs.
Atonic seizures cause children’s body to go limp. If standing, the child will immediately fall to the ground, and my experience loss of consciousness. Some jerking may occur, though loss of muscle tone is the most common feature of this type of seizure. Children will become alert again right after the seizure has ended.
Formerly known as the “grand mal seizure,” the tonic-clonic seizure is characterized by a loss of muscle control that results in rigidity, jerking, and loss of consciousness. Sweating, increased heart rate and loss of bowel and bladder function are all signs of a tonic-clonic seizure. Children will take time to recover from this type of seizure and may appear drowsy or confused.
This type of seizure happens in infants less than a month old. These seizures can be difficult to recognize, and can include repetitive facial movements and unusual pedaling movements, along with rhythmic jerking and stiffening of the muscles.
Focal (Partial) Seizures
These seizures affect only part of the brain, so the child will often remain conscious and alert during the seizure. Because of this, these seizures can be mistaken for another problem like a headache or mental illness. Focal seizures in children are broken down into three categories: motor seizures, sensory seizures and autonomic seizures.
Motor seizures can manifest as a tic or twitching that often spreads from the face, toes or fingers to other parts of the child’s body. Though the twitching spreads, it will stay on the same side of the body as it began.
Sensory seizures can cause children to see things that aren’t there or distort their perceptions. They may have hallucinations that affect their sight, hearing and smell. These seizures are also frequently accompanied by tingling or prickly feelings or numbness in part of the child’s body.
Autonomic seizures cause disruptions in the systems that govern the regulation of the body’s organs. Children who experience an autonomic seizure will experience dramatic changes in breathing and heart rate accompanied by sweating, and a flushed appearance or goose bumps.
Causes of Seizures in Children
Seizures can be related to a number of different neurological conditions in a child’s brain. As mentioned, the most common cause of seizures is epilepsy. However, other causes exist that can cause seizures in children such as a high fever, low blood sugar or an unintended interaction with some drugs.
If childhood epilepsy or other serious condition is suspected, members of the pediatric neurology team will perform laboratory tests, brain imaging and observation to determine the cause for the child seizures.
Treatments for Seizures in Children
Children who experience chronic seizures often receive medication to lessen or eliminate the seizures. Fortunately, many children who experience seizures are only in need of temporary treatment. Treatment of epilepsy in children can also involve a combination of medication and dietary changes. In some cases, surgery may be used to treat underlying conditions.