Health Library
Intractable Epilepsy

What is Intractable Epilepsy in Infants & Children?

When a person has had two or more seizures, it is called epilepsy. Medicine often helps control epilepsy. If a child’s seizures still happen when taking two types of seizure medicine, their epilepsy is called intractable (uncontrolled). There is no way to know which child will respond to medicine.

Cause of Intractable Epilepsy

There is no single cause of intractable epilepsy.  It is often hard for the doctor to pinpoint the cause without testing or surgery. There are a few factors that may play a part in epilepsy turning into intractable epilepsy:

  • Certain epilepsy syndromes
  • Age when it started (very young patients  are at highest risk)
  • Having more seizures in the first six months
  • History of having a prolonged seizure
  • Certain EEG findings
  • Having a developmental delay

What Does This Mean for Your Child?

Intractable epilepsy may last a lifetime. This can lead to many long-term issues.  Your child may have: 

  • Trouble doing school work 
  • A need for help with daily living skills 
  • A greater risk of getting hurt
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Reproductive issues

Treatment Options

Your child’s doctor and health care team will talk to you about treatment options for your child. These include:


Their seizure medicine may stay the same or it may be changed. The doctor will check their medicine and make changes if needed. 


The doctor may suggest surgery. If the doctor thinks surgery is right for your child, they will talk with you more about this.


Some children do better when changes are made to their diet.

To Learn More

For more information, visit the Epilepsy Foundation website.

Last Updated 08/2021

Reviewed By Naomi Van Horn, MSN, APRN, CNP

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