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Epilepsy in Children

​​​​Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder in which abnormal brain activity causes seizures​. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean an individual has epilepsy. For epilepsy to be diagnosed, one must have had at least two unprovoked seizures, or have a high risk of another unprovoked seizure after one has happened. An unprovoked seizure is a seizure not brought on by fever, infection, dehydration or drugs.

Symptoms

Symptoms differ depending on the type of seizure, and since epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, it can affect anything the brain controls. Symptoms can include the following, among others:

  • Staring
  • Temporary confusion
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements

Individuals with epilepsy tend to have the same type of seizure each time, meaning the symptoms will most likely be similar from episode to episode.

Causes and Risk Factors

For half of individuals who suffer from epilepsy, there is no identifiable cause. However, for the other half, their epilepsy can be traced to:

  • Genetic influence: Certain genes may cause an individual to be more sensitive to environmental conditions that can trigger seizures.
  • Head Trauma: Car accidents or other traumatic head injuries can cause epilepsy.
  • Infectious diseases: Meningitis and viral encephalitis can cause epilepsy.
  • Prenatal Injury: Poor nutrition, oxygen deficiencies or prenatal complications can result in epilepsy.
  • Developmental disorders: Disorders such as autism and neurofibromatosis can be associated with epilepsy.

The main risk factors associated with epilepsy include:

  • Age: It is most common in children and older adults.
  • Family History: If there is a family history of epilepsy, there is an increased risk.
  • Head Injuries: Traumatic brain injuries can damage brain cells, leading to seizures. The more severe the injury, the higher the risk.

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a clinical diagnosis. A doctor may conduct a series of tests to confirm the diagnosis. The evaluation may include:

  • A neurological exam: The doctor may test behavior, mental function and motor abilities to determine the type of epilepsy.
  • A blood test: The blood sample will be used to test for infections or genetic conditions associated with epilepsy.
  • Infectious diseases: Meningitis and viral encephalitis can cause epilepsy.
  • Prenatal Injury: Poor nutrition, oxygen deficiencies or prenatal complications can result in epilepsy.
  • ​Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG will examine brain wave patterns.

Treatment

Epilepsy treatment typically involves medication and/or surgery.

Most individuals with epilepsy can become seizure-free by taking an anti-seizure medication. For others, a combination of medicine may help decrease the frequency and intensity of their seizures. There are several types of anti-seizure medication, therefore, it might take a little bit of time to find the medication that works best.

If medication does not help control seizures, surgery may be performed. During the surgery, the surgeon may conduct a minimally invasive surgery and place in a vagal nerve stimulator, or they may remove the part of the brain causing the seizures. If the area of the brain cannot or should not be removed, an invasive cortical stimulator may be used. Medication may still be needed after surgery to help prevent seizures, but as time goes on, the dosage may be lessened.

​While s​ome children outgrow epilepsy with age, some individuals may need lifelong treatment to help control their condition.

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