My child had a seizure. Is it epilepsy?

Ten percent of people will have a seizure at some point in their life. Does that mean an epilepsy diagnosis will follow? Learn about seizures and their causes.

If your child has a seizure, it can be scary. What caused the seizure? Could your child have epilepsy? While epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the U.S., having a seizure does not necessarily mean a child has epilepsy. Up to 10% of people will have a seizure at some point in their life, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Learn more about seizures and what causes them.

What is a seizure?

The brain’s neurons, or nerve cells, talk to each other through electrical impulses. A seizure is a brief change in the normal brain activity. Seizures happen when neurons misfire or “talk too much,” disrupting the normal electrical rhythms of the brain. Seizures are quite common, especially in infants and young children. Seizures have a wide range of causes, including a health condition or an injury. For most kids, however, there is no detectable cause.

What causes seizures?

Anyone can have a seizure under the right circumstances. A seizure is considered to be a single event; whereas epilepsy is a condition in which where a person is predisposed to having recurrent, unprovoked seizures.

A seizure can be provoked or unprovoked? What does this mean? A provoked seizure is caused by an event such as:

  • Low blood sugar
  • High fever
  • Infection
  • Injury, such as concussion
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Cocaine use
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Exposure to flashing lights, patterns

Unprovoked seizures, however, don’t have an obvious link to a cause. These seizures could be triggered by many things; an underlying neurological disorder, genetics or metabolic or chemical imbalances in the body.

Types of seizures

When people think of seizures, they often think of one particular type: the generalized tonic-clonic seizure, also called the grand mal seizure. However, there are several types of seizures that a person could experience.

  • Febrile seizure:This is the most common type of seizure. This kind is triggered by a fever and usually affects children between 6 months and 5 years old. This type usually has muscle contractions, from mild (muscle stiffening) to severe (convulsions). If the seizure lasts less than 15 minutes, it’s a “simple” febrile seizure; those that last longer than 15 minutes are considered “complex.”
  • Neonatal seizure:This type occurs in the first month of life, usually very soon after a baby is born.
  • Partial seizure (focal seizures): This type affects just one part of the brain. Before this type, a child may experience an aura, with changes in hearing, vision and the sense of smell. The focal seizure can last less than a minute and have different symptoms based on the part of the brain affected.
  • Generalized seizure:Both sides of the brain are affected with this type of seizure. A child will lose consciousness and will have a recovery period after the seizure. There are different types of generalized seizures, including:
      • Absence seizure (petit mal seizure):This type involves staring and an altered state of consciousness. They are usually shorter than 30 seconds, but can happen several times a day. Afterward, a child may act like nothing has happened. This type usually begins between about 4 and 12 years old.
      • Atonic seizure: This type involves a quick loss of muscle tone, and can cause a drop attack, where a person falls from a standing position. During this type, the child is limp and unresponsive.
      • Tonic seizure:This type will cause parts of the body to stiffen, which also may cause drop attacks.
      • Generalized tonic-clonic seizure (grand mal seizure):This type of seizure has five phases which include:
        • The child’s body will flex.
        • The child’s body will straighten out.
        • The child has tremors.
        • The muscles will contract and relax (clonic).
        • A post-seizure period occurs, where the child may be tired, sleepy, have vision or speech issues and have a headache or body aches.
      • Myoclonic seizure:This type involves the sudden jerking of a muscle group. This type of seizure often happens in clusters, occurring several times a day or for a few days in a row.

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Your child had a seizure. Now what?

Norton Children’s New Onset Seizure Clinic is the leading provider of seizure evaluation in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana. We work with children and families to discover what type of seizure may have occurred, what may have caused the seizure, and risk factors for additional seizures in the future. If needed, our team builds a customized treatment plan that can help minimize side effects so your child can live as seizure-free as possible. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained team of neurologists and neurosurgeons use state-of-the-art diagnostic tools to pinpoint your child’s diagnosis.

Norton Children’s Hospital Comprehensive Epilepsy Center has held the highest rating available from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers since 2013.