Epilepsy and Seizures

A seizure is a temporary "electrical storm" that occurs on the surface of the brain. Seizures start suddenly and usually stop on their own within one to three minutes.

Seizures are common; around one in 10 people will have a single seizure in their lifetime.

A seizure can present in many different ways. It may include jerking movements or stiffening of the arms and legs. You may notice smacking of the lips, twitching of the face, or the child picking at his or her clothing. Sudden loss of muscle control or staring spells can also be a common seizure type.

During a seizure, you may notice the child drooling, or drooping of one side of the face, or a blue color of the lips or face. A child's breathing pattern may change but rarely stops completely. When the seizure is over the child may have a period of extreme sleepiness, and need to rest.

Seizures can happen for many different reasons. Fever, infection, head injury, or ingestion of certain drugs can cause a seizure. When a child experiences a seizure, his or her doctor will look for these causes and order testing.

Many times when a child is diagnosed with epilepsy all of the tests are normal.

When a child has shown a tendency to have seizures, it is called epilepsy. A doctor may diagnose epilepsy once a child has had two or more seizures within a one-year period.

About one in every 100 people will develop epilepsy. People can outgrow the tendency to have seizures, and may wean their seizure medicine under the careful supervision of their doctor. Epilepsy is not a mental illness; it does not mean that the person is delayed or handicapped or will have learning problems.

When epilepsy is diagnosed, medications (called antiseizure or antiepileptic medications) are usually prescribed. The doctor will choose the medication based on the person's age, weight, seizure type and physical condition.

The goal of treatment is the best quality of life, no seizures, and no side effects from the medication. Sometimes the medication will need to be changed if there are intolerable side effects or if it doesn't control the seizures.

It is important to report seizures and side effects to the medical team, so that you can work together to develop the best treatment plan.

When Medication Is Prescribed

  • It is important for your child to take epilepsy medication exactly as it is prescribed. The healthcare team will teach you how to administer the medication. Your child should not skip doses or suddenly stop the medication because more seizures may occur. Always know the name of the medicine and the amount and times that it is to be taken and the possible side effects.
  • Blood tests may be ordered for people who take seizure medication. The tests can be ordered to look at blood counts, liver function, kidney function, and to look at the level of medication in the bloodstream.
  • Certain medications may interact with seizure medicine so it is important that you check with your doctor before your child takes a new medicine that has been prescribed, or for any vitamins, alternative medicines, herbs, or over-the-counter medicine that your child takes.
  • Sometimes families find it difficult to follow through with treatment recommendations. Reasons include medicine side effects, not understanding the treatment plan, having unanswered questions, financial problems or transportation needs. It is important to notify us when there are concerns. You are an important part of the team and we will partner with you to resolve these issues together to provide your child the best possible care.

Be sure to attend all scheduled appointments. Bring all questions to your visits.

And be sure to call the team if you or your child has any questions or concerns.

  • Remain calm and stay with the person.
  • Protect the person from injury -- move harmful objects away.
  • Place a soft object under the person's head.
  • Roll the person onto his/her side.
  • Loosen tight clothing.
  • Have someone call 911 if the seizure lasts at least five minutes.
  • Be sure to time the seizure when it starts.
  • Do not put anything in the person's mouth -- he or she cannot swallow the tongue.
  • Do not restrain movement -- it may cause an injury.
  • Do not give liquids or medicine by mouth until the person is fully conscious.
  • Do not panic -- most seizures will stop within three minutes on their own.

The person may be confused and sleepy. It is OK to let the person sleep.

The person may have a bowel movement or urinate in their pants or vomit during the seizure.

Any bleeding from the mouth may mean that the person has bitten the tongue or the inside of the cheek. Check the mouth only after the seizure is over and apply pressure with a clean cloth to stop the bleeding.

If your child has epilepsy, he or she:

  • Should not swim alone or take a tub bath alone. Anyone can drown in 2 inches of water if they have a seizure while in water.
  • Should wear a helmet and proper safety equipment when biking, in-line skating, ice skating, etc.
  • Should avoid climbing on ladders, trees, or other high objects that may cause injury if your child falls because of a seizure.
  • Can climb on playground equipment that has a safety surface once a child's seizures are controlled.
  • Should not operate a car, motorized vehicle or heavy machinery until your child has been cleared to do so by his or her doctor.

Last Updated 08/2013