June 27, 2022
In this blog post, we will explore the most common causes of seizures, different types of seizures, and how to manage seizures.
Is my child experiencing seizures?
If your child appears to be having seizures, but you’re unsure, it can be challenging and stressful. This blog explains what seizures are, the causes of seizures, the different types of seizures, and how you can get a diagnosis for your child so they can get the help they need.
What are seizures?
Seizures are unpredictable and uncontrolled electrical discharges of neurons within the brain. They can cause changes in the senses, motor movement, and level of consciousness.
If your child begins to experience two or more seizures, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy. The International Classification of Epileptic Seizures classifies seizures into three categories: generalized, partial, and unclassified.
Learn more about seizures and epilepsy
What can cause seizures?
Your child may have a diagnosis of seizures and/or global developmental delay (delay in walking/talking/movement/behavior/and ability to interact with others), but you may not know the underlying cause. Some causes of seizures and developmental delay in children include:
The National Institute of Health defines a rare disease, “as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people” in the United States caused by abnormalities or mutations in genes. Genetic mutations can be passed on from one generation to the next, but some occur randomly.
Structural brain abnormalities
Each area of our brain is responsible for certain functions, like speech, walking, and breathing. If a child’s brain does not develop normally in the womb a structural brain abnormality can result. In some cases, the damaged area of the brain can not only impair normal functions, like speech and walking, but can also result in seizure activity.
Seizures may also occur after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI can result after excessive shaking, a fall, a motor vehicle accident, or being hit in the head by an object.
Seizures can happen in 1 to 5 of every ten people who have had a TBI, depending on where the injury occurred in the brain. The seizure usually happens where there is a scar in the brain because of the injury (Englander, Cifu, & Diaz-Arrastia, 2015).
Pregnancy or birth complications
One of the main causes of brain injury to newborns is oxygen deprivation during pregnancy or childbirth. During pregnancy, the umbilical cord can be compressed or twisted which will greatly reduce the flow of oxygen rich venous blood traveling to the fetus. During childbirth, the newborn can become stuck while descending the birth canal. Depending on the strength of the contractions, which clamp down on the umbilical cord, the fetus can be deprived of oxygen for a significant period of time. When the brain cells are deprived of oxygen, they may die, and this can lead to scarred areas of the brain that aren’t functioning, leading to seizures.
Another significant cause of infant brain injury that can lead to seizures is a maternal infection, such as Group B streptococcus or Syphilis. When not properly managed, infections in pregnant mothers can potentially interfere with the delivery of oxygen to the baby.
After birth, a child may contract a severe infection, like Tuberculosis or bacterial meningitis, which can also impair electrical activity in the brain leading to seizures.
What can trigger a seizure?
Triggers vary from person to person, but some known triggers are heat, stress, fatigue, alcohol toxicity (poisoning), too much caffeine intake, flashing lights, and substances like cocaine.
What are the different types of seizures?
There are two main types of seizures: focal and generalized.
Focal seizures occur when abnormal electrical activity occurs in one region of the brain. They can be mild or result in impairments to awareness, behaviors, and movement.
Generalized seizures occur when abnormal electrical activity occurs on both sides of the brain. They can start as focal seizures that spread to both sides of the brain. The cause of generalized seizures is presumed to be genetic and can be broken down into 3 main categories:
- More common in children
- Staring spells that last between 3-10 seconds
- Common symptoms include lip smacking, chewing motions, and eyelid fluttering
- Muscle jerking in a muscle or a group of muscles on both sides of the body
- May happen so fast that they may be confused with a tic or clumsiness
Generalized Tonic–Clonic Seizures
Shortly before your child may feel light-headed, experience a sudden mood change, anxiety, or behavior changes. Your child may experience an aura. An aura is different for everyone, but common symptoms include odd smells, vision difficulties, a pins and needles feeling, nausea, or fear.
Next, your child’s body will enter the next stage of the seizure, which may include confusion, twitching or violent muscle jerking.
The final stage of the seizure is the recovery period which may include extreme tiredness, loss of bladder and bowel control, anxiety, nausea, or evidence of injury.
What should I do if my child had a seizure?
It’s important to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible so your child can be connected to the appropriate specialists and resources.
Even if your child has only experienced one seizure, most pediatricians will help you develop a seizure action plan (SAP). It is a plan to help you act quickly in the case your child experiences another seizure. You should share your SAP with the important people in your child’s life, like family, close friends, and teachers.
Your Seizure Action Plan Should Include:
- Your child’s name as well as your name and contact information
- Medical History
- Medication List
- Rescue Medications
- Seizure Triggers
- Specific Instructions during and after a seizure.