The severity of symptoms in children with epilepsy can range from a brief, unprovoked period of staring to severe, long-lasting convulsions involving the whole body. A diagnosis of epilepsy in children can be treated through anti-seizure drugs, dietary changes and in rare instances when other approaches have not been effective, surgery.
Medication is generally the initial choice to treat epilepsy in children and for a significant percentage there is a strong possibility they will outgrow seizures. An isolated occurrence of a seizure is not indicative of epilepsy and experiencing a seizure during infancy and childhood is common. Episodes may be directly due to an injury or unrelated illness although they frequently occur in isolation. Children who have experienced two or more unprovoked seizures that do not have an apparent cause are diagnosed with epilepsy. Children and their parents may feel overwhelmed by a diagnosis of epilepsy and can benefit from professional guidance and support. Resources include their child’s physician, other parents in a similar situation and mental health workers prepared to help the family to cope with the stress of managing a chronic condition.
Similar to the range of symptom severity in children with epilepsy, some patients are also at risk of developing serious, long-term complications from seizures. Kids with epilepsy require substantial support from parents, medical professionals and school officials to understand how to protect them during an episode. Warning signs and symptoms of a seizure may include muscle stiffening, rapid eye blinks, confusion, trouble breathing and loss of bladder control. The child and those witnessing a severe seizure are likely to be frightened and embarrassed, especially if they fell or vomited during the episode. In a small percentage of children, epilepsy has the potential to result in learning difficulties, neurological changes and shifts in behavior or personality.
Epilepsy treatment for kids begins with medication to prevent seizures and increase the opportunity to live a seizure-free childhood. For those not responding efficiently to drug treatment, the child’s physician may consider a ketogenic diet. This diet is started in a hospital setting following a 24-hour fasting period and is designed to be high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Surgery remains an option for patients not responding to medication and nutrition adaptations, and is a specialized procedure that targets certain areas of affected brain tissue.
While parents and others responsible for the child endure the process of finding an effective way to treat their condition, it is critical to be prepared for a seizure and understand how to best protect and recover from an episode. During a seizure it is important to gently seat a child on the floor, note when it started and which areas of the body were affected, move sharp or hard objects away from the child and most importantly, remain with the child until the seizure stops. When symptoms have ceased, parents and other adults can best support kids by helping them clean up, offer plenty of time for rest and make sure they are comfortable.
Stacy Randall is a writer for the Nebraska Medical Center. She enjoys writing on topics in the health field. The Nebraska Medical Center is the largest healthcare facility in Nebraska and is known for its cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, etc) and heart treatment units as well as being the designated trauma unit 3 days a week.