What Is Epilepsy?

People with epilepsy have repeated seizures. A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Although watching someone have a seizure can be scary, most seizures only last a few seconds to a few minutes. Many children with epilepsy will outgrow seizures.

What Are the Different Kinds of Epilepsy?

There are different kinds of epilepsy, including:

The kind of epilepsy that somone has depends on the seizure type. A seizure can be:

  • a primary generalized seizure, which involves both sides of the brain at once
  • a focal seizure, which only involves one side, but can spread to the other side (a secondary generalized seizure)

Often, kids with epilepsy have both generalized seizures and focal seizures.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can be caused by infections, genetic mutations, brain injury or a tumor, abnormal blood vessels, or bleeding in the brain.

Kids with Down syndrome, autism, and some metabolic disorders also may have epilepsy. Some types of epilepsy run in families.

More than half of epilepsy cases are idiopathic, meaning there's no clear cause, but this is changing as more genetic mutations are found.

How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

Epilepsy in children is diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist (a doctor who specializes in brain, spine, and nervous system problems). Testing may include:

  • blood tests and urine tests (to look for infections or illnesses)
  • EEG, or electroencephalography (to see brain waves/electrical activity in the brain)
  • VEEG, or video electroencephalography (EEG with video recording)
  • CAT scan, MRI, and PET/MRI scans to look inside the brain

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

Epilepsy is usually treated with medicines. If medicines don't control the seizures, sometimes a special diet, such as a ketogenic diet, is tried. A ketogenic (or keto) diet is a strict high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and can sometimes reduce seizures.

For hard to control seizures, doctors may recommend vagal nerve stimulation (VNS), which is a device that stimulates the vagal nerve, or surgery.

How Can I Help My Child?

Most kids with epilepsy can lead a normal life. To help your child live better with epilepsy, be sure he or she:

  • takes medicine(s) as prescribed
  • avoids triggers (such as excessive stress, lack of sleep, antihistamine drugs)
  • gets help for any learning or behavior problems
  • sees the neurologist as recommended

It's important to keep your child safe during a seizure. So make sure that other adults and caregivers (family members, babysitters, teachers, coaches, etc.) know what to do.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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