Health Library
Epilepsy and Seizures

How Are Seizures and Epilepsy Defined?

A seizure is a temporary "electrical storm" that occurs on the surface of the brain. Seizures start quickly and most often stop on their own within one to three minutes. There are many types of seizures that people may have.

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

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. Epilepsy is not a mental illness. It does not mean that the person is delayed or handicapped or will have learning problems.

About one in 100 people will develop epilepsy. People can outgrow the tendency to have seizures. They may wean their seizure medicine under the careful watch of their doctor.

Traits of a Seizure

A seizure can present in many ways. It may involve 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 their clothes. Sudden loss of muscle control or staring spells can also be a common seizure type.

During a seizure, you may notice the child has drooling, 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 fully. When the seizure is over the child may have a period of great sleepiness, and need to rest.

Causes of a Seizure

Seizures can happen for many reasons. Fever, infection, head injury, or taking certain drugs can cause a seizure. There may be genetic causes or structural abnormalities that cause seizures. Sometimes, the cause of a child’s seizure is unknown.

When a child has a seizure, their doctor will look for these causes and order testing.

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

Treatment for Epilepsy

When epilepsy is diagnosed, medicine (called anti-seizure or antiepileptic medicine) are often prescribed. This medicine helps control the seizures. The doctor will choose the medicine based on the child’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 medicine. Sometimes the medicine will need to be changed if there are side effects that are too much to handle or if it doesn't control the seizures.

It is vital to report seizures and side effects to the health care team, so that you can work together to make the best treatment plan.

When Medication Is Prescribed

  • It is vital for your child to take epilepsy medicine exactly as it is prescribed. The health care team will teach you how to give the medicine. Your child should not skip doses or stop the medicine all of the sudden. This may lead to more seizures. Always know the name of the medicine, the amount, the times that it is to be taken, and the possible side effects.
  • Blood tests may be ordered. The tests look at blood counts, liver function, kidney function, and the level of the medicine in the blood stream.
  • Certain medicine may interact with seizure medicine. It is vital 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 hard to follow through with treatment plans. These reasons vary and can be due to things such as: medicine side effects, not understanding the treatment plan, having unanswered questions, money problems or transportation needs. It is vital that you let us know when there are concerns. You are a vital part of the team. We will partner with you to help solve these issues together to give your child the best possible care.

Having an Active Role in Epilepsy Treatment

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

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

What to do if Your Child has a Seizure:

  • Stay calm and stay with your child
  • Protect your child from getting hurt. Move objects away that may harm them.
  • Place a soft object under your child’s head.
  • Roll the person onto their side.
  • Loosen tight clothes.
  • Have someone call 911 if the seizure lasts five minutes or longer.
  • Be sure to time the seizure when it starts.
  • Do not put anything in the child's mouth. Your child cannot swallow their tongue.
  • Do not try to keep your child from moving. This may cause your child to get hurt.
  • Do not give liquids or medicine by mouth until your child is fully awake and alert.
  • Do not panic. Most seizures will stop within three minutes on their own.

After a Seizure

  • Your child may be confused and sleepy. It is okay to let them sleep.
  • Your child may have stool or urine in their pants. They may also have vomit from the seizure.
  • Any bleeding from the mouth may mean that your child bit their tongue or the inside of their cheek. Check the mouth only after the seizure is over. Put a clean cloth on the area and use gentle pressure to stop the bleeding.

Activity Restrictions

If your child has epilepsy:

  • They should not swim alone or take a tub bath alone. Anyone can drown in two inches of water if they have a seizure while in water.
  • They should wear a helmet and proper safety gear when biking, roller blading, ice skating, etc.
  • They should avoid climbing on ladders, trees, or other high objects. They may get hurt if they fall because of a seizure.
  • They can climb on playground structures that have a safety surface once their seizures are controlled.
  • They should not drive a car or other motorized vehicle or use heavy machinery until their doctor says it’s OK to.

Informational Resources

Last Updated 08/2021

Reviewed By Ellie Sullivan, RN

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