Seizure Disorders

Introduction

The Questions and Answers that follow aim to provide an introduction to seizure disorders for parents and other family members. Following those, we offer links to selected resources for more information and support and a list of valuable services.
This More information about many topics relevant to children with seizure disorders and many other chronic conditions and their families can be found in the left menu. Detailed information aimed at primary care doctors can be found in our Seizures/Epilepsy module.

What are seizures/epilepsy?

Seizures are sudden, involuntary, time-limited changes in behavior, movement, consciousness, or sensation, accompanied by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

How do you get seizures/epilepsy?

Seizures can be triggered (initiated) by acute medical conditions (e.g., trauma, electrolyte disturbances, meningitis) or they can happen without a trigger. Epilepsy is a condition in which a person has multiple untriggered seizures.

What are the symptoms?

Different types of seizures look very different. Some common types are:
  • Absence epilepsy, where a child may just blink and looked dazed for a few seconds
  • Partial complex seizures, where a child may have an odd sensation and then have some minor jerking on one part of the body
  • Generalized tonic clonic, also known as grand mal seizures, where the child may fall to the ground, jerking violently
Your child’s seizure may look a lot different than the descriptions above. Taking a video of the seizure can be useful to help the doctor with diagnosis and treatment.
If you are concerned that some behavior your child has may be seizures, talk with your pediatrician.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose seizures, a doctor needs to understand the events your child is having, how often he is having them, what brings them on, etc. An EEG (a brain wave test) will often be performed to get information regarding the type of seizure and to help with evaluation and treatment.

What is the expected outcome?

Different types of seizures have different prognoses. Some seizures are linked with developmental delay and are very hard to control; others may need life-long medication but have no effect on development; and others may be treated for two years and not happen again. Ask your doctor for more specific information.

Will anyone else in the family get seizures/epilepsy?

The risk for other family members and future babies is based on the type of seizures. Some seizures are caused by genetic abnormalities and may occur in family members. Other types of seizures are caused by environmental factors, such as brain injury, lack of oxygen during pregnancy, trauma, viral or bacterial infection, or have no known cause. These types of seizures would not likely occur in other family members.

What is the treatment?

Seizures are generally first treated with medications to stop the seizures, although some kinds of seizures may not need treatment. While many children stop having seizures with their first medication, other seizures are very hard to treat and the child may be on several medications. When medications aren't working well, there are other options such as epilepsy surgery, the vagal nerve stimulator, and the ketogenic diet. Many parents have had success with alternative treatments, such as CBD oil (see CBD for Neurologic Conditions in Children). Always contact your doctor to discuss any treatments you learn about.

How will my family’s life be changed?

How your child’s and family’s life will be changed will depend on the type of seizure, response to treatment, and any associated problems, like developmental delay. Some seizures are easy to treat; your child will be put on medication for a two-year seizure-free interval, then the medication will be slowly stopped, and your child won't have any more seizures. Other seizures may be very hard to treat, requiring several medications, and other treatments such as the ketogenic diet.

Resources

Information & Support

Where can I go for further information?

For Parents and Patients

American Epilepsy Society
Information and resources to understand epilepsy, especially for those who are not familiar with the condition.

Epilepsy (KidsHealth.org)
A page about epilepsy for children, with kid-friendly explanations; also available in Spanish.

Epilepsy Foundation
A national organization that provides information about epilepsy; programs to improve epilepsy treatment; materials to assist in helping people with epilepsy find jobs; activities in schools to educate the public; activities to educate policymakers; funds for research; links to find local and state resources; and news about conferences and other items of interest.

Prescription Assistance Programs (American Epilepsy Society)
Information and links to various prescription assistance programs, which may help reduce the cost of medications significantly.

Epilepsy (ninds.nih.gov)
Detailed information about epilepsy and treatment from the NIH.

Services for Patients & Families in New Mexico (NM)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Last update/revision: February 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Funding: The Medical Home Portal thanks the 2011-2012 URLEND Medical Home Portal trainees group for their contribution to this page.