We often associate specific conditions like epilepsy with seizures in children, but there are other reasons they can occur as well.
For example, if a child has a traumatic brain injury, it can raise their risk of a seizure. Even having a fever can lead to seizures in children.
A seizure occurs when a significant number of cells in the brain send out an electric charge simultaneously. It creates a wave of electricity that overwhelms the brain. That leads to a seizure which can cause loss of consciousness, muscle spasms, or strange behavior.
Anyone can have a seizure, and sometimes no cause is found. This means the seizure is idiopathic, or essentially, we don’t know what causes it.
Below are the most common reasons for seizures in children specifically, when one can be identified.
While not every seizure in children is the result of epilepsy, this condition is one of the most common reasons for them. Epilepsy affects adults as well as children and is one of the most common nervous system disorders.
The brain’s cells communicate with one another through electrical activity. Again, when there’s an abnormal burst of electrical signals, it can interrupt the normal brain signals and lead to epilepsy. Anytime there is something that’s coming between the normal nerve cell connections in the brain, a seizure can occur.
When a child has two or more seizures with no known cause, it’s usually diagnosed as epilepsy.
There are different types of seizures that can occur as part of epilepsy. The type of seizure depends on how much of the brain is affected, as well as what part and what happens during the seizure.
Focal or partial seizures indicate abnormal electrical function has occurred in one or more areas of just one side of the brain.
A generalized seizure is one affecting both sides of the brain. During a generalized seizure, a child loses consciousness, and they will be very tired following it.
There are several types of generalized seizures, including:
• An absence seizure is also called a petit mal seizure, which causes changes in consciousness and staring. Your child’s mouth or face may twitch, or their eyes might blink rapidly. These seizures last no longer than 30 seconds, and your child may not remember what happened. These seizures usually start between the ages of 4 and 12.
• Atonic seizures lead a child to have a sudden loss of muscle tone. That may lead them to fall from standing or suddenly drop their head, and as such, these are also called a drop seizure. During an atonic seizure, a child is unresponsive and limp.
• A generalized tonic-clonic seizure is also called a grand mal seizure. There are five phases of this. During the first phase, there is contraction of your child’s arms and legs, then they extend or straighten out, which is followed by shaking. Then, there’s a period with contraction and relaxation of the muscles known as the clonic period. During the postictal period, a child may be very tired and have some problems with speech or vision.
A febrile seizure is something that many parents aren’t aware of, and if it happens to their child, it can be incredibly frightening.
A febrile seizure is a convulsion in children caused by a fever. The fever frequently stems from an infection.
A febrile seizure can occur in a child who is healthy and has no history of previous neurological symptoms.
A febrile seizure usually lasts a few minutes, and they typically aren’t harmful, despite how scary they are for parents.
Symptoms include having a fever higher than 100.4, loss of consciousness, and shaking or jerking of the arms and legs.
There are both simple and complex febrile seizures. A simple febrile seizure usually lasts up to 15 minutes, but they don’t recur within a 24-hour period. A complex febrile seizure lasts longer than 15 minutes and occurs more than once in a 24-hour period. It usually only affects one side of a child’s body.
Even a low-grade fever can trigger a febrile seizure.
They’re most often triggered by a viral infection and rarely a bacterial infection.
Post-vaccination seizures may occur as well, but it’s the fever from the vaccine that causes it, rather than the vaccine itself.
Traumatic Brain Injury
If your child has a concussion, also known as a traumatic brain injury, they may experience a seizure. A seizure can occur within hours after the injury occurring, or it can happen weeks or even years later.
If your child has a seizure within a week of sustaining a TBI, it’s called an early post-traumatic seizure. It can be caused by bleeding occurring between the skull and brain.
Brain swelling can also trigger a seizure.
If a seizure occurs at least a week after a TBI, it’s a late post-traumatic seizure. This can be caused by permanent damage to a child’s brain. A late post-traumatic seizure puts a child at a greater risk of developing epilepsy.
There is a condition called non-epileptic seizures that some children and adults can experience. It doesn’t include unusual electrical activity in the brain, and it’s usually caused by a physical condition or mental stress.
NES symptoms can include convulsions, twitching motions, loss of consciousness, biting the tongue, and loss of bladder control.
Risk factors for NES include a heart condition, diabetes, abuse, or emotional pain.
Symptoms of Seizures in Children
While the underlying reasons for seizures in children may be different, very often there are some similar symptoms across the board including jerking movements of the arms and legs, staring, and loss of consciousness.
If your child experiences a seizure for the first time, it’s very important to get medical care right away to figure out what the underlying cause is.
The goal of treating seizures is to control or reduce how often they occur, but with something like a febrile seizure, treatment isn’t usually needed.