Why does a child have epilepsy and What is a childhood epilepsy syndrome?

Children develop epilepsy as a result of brain injury which could be due to severe head injury, difficulties at birth, or an infection which affects the brain such as meningitis. Epilepsy with a known cause like this is called symptomatic e

Updated: June 16, 2022

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing recurrent seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness. Abnormal movements or behavior due to unusual electrical activity in the brain are known as seizures which is a symptom of epilepsy. But not all people who appear to have seizures have epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a group of related disorders characterized by a tendency for recurrent seizures. Non-epileptic seizures are called as pseudoseizures which may be caused by psychological issues or stress. These are not accompanied by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Normal EEG readings and lack of response to epileptic drugs will help differentiating non-epileptic seizures from epileptic seizures. These types of seizure may be treated with psychotherapy and psychiatric medications.

What happens during a seizure?

There are several types of epileptic seizure. The type of epileptic seizure a child has depends on which area of their brain is affected. There are two main types of seizures. Generalized seizures affect the whole brain. Focal, or partial seizures, affect just one part of the brain.
Although there are some seizures which are more common in childhood than adulthood, mostly adults and children have the same types of seizure.
Absence seizures often occur in children.These seizures may occur in clusters and cause a brief loss of awareness and are characterized by staring into space or subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking.
A child may be aware of what is happening in some types of seizure where as in other types, the child may be unconscious and have no memory of the seizure afterwards. Some children may have seizures when they are sleeping called asleep or nocturnal seizures. This type of seizure can affect sleep patterns resulting in tiredness and confusion the next day.
Different seizures include:

  • jerking of the body
  • repetitive movements
  • unusual sensations such as alterations to sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch

Why does a child have epilepsy?

Some children develop epilepsy as a result of brain injury which could be due to severe head injury, difficulties at birth, or an infection which affects the brain such as meningitis. Epilepsy with a known cause like this is called symptomatic epilepsy.
When epilepsy in child has a genetic cause which is inherited from one of the parents or a change that happened in the child's genes before they were born is called idiopathic epilepsy.
The level of resistance to seizures is included in the genes which is passed from parent to child called a seizure threshold. A child with a low seizure threshold may start having seizures for no obvious reason. It is not always necessary that a child will have seizure with a low seizure threshold.
Epilepsy due to brain tumors or cysts and degenerative disorders are rare in case of a child.  A seizure may occur within one or two days of an immunization, especially if it is followed by a fever. The child will have an innocent febrile seizure in such cases. To prevent this type of seizure the parents should give acetaminophen or ibuprofen before a fever develops when the child receives immunizations. Usually children can receive further immunizations who have a single seizure following an immunization.
Epilepsy affects every child differently depending on:

  • Age
  • Types of seizure
  • Response to treatment
  • Having other health issues

What is a childhood epilepsy syndrome?

If the seizures of your child have specific characteristics, it is known as childhood epilepsy syndrome. These can include the type of seizures they have, the age when the seizures started and the specific results of an electroencephalogram (EEG).
The paediatrician may be able to predict how the condition of your child will progress as the syndromes follow a particular pattern. But sometime syndromes can vary greatly. Benign syndromes will have a good outcome and usually go away once the child reaches a certain age. Other syndromes are severe and difficult to treat. Some may include other disabilities and may affect the development and growth of a child.


 


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