Best Advice If Your Child Has a Seizure? Don’t Panic
Does your child’s seizure mean he or she will develop epilepsy? Know the facts, the causes of childhood seizures and what to do if one occurs.
Seizures have many causes and are fairly common in children, so don’t panic if your child has one.
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It doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has epilepsy, nor does it mean the child has a greater risk of developing epilepsy in the future, says neurologist Ajay Gupta, MD, Section Head of Pediatric Epilepsy in Cleveland Clinic’s Epilepsy Center/Neurological Institute.
A seizure occurs when many brain cells abnormally fire at the same time. This temporarily disrupts the brain’s normal electrical signals. The intense, excessive electrical activity overwhelms the brain and may cause changes in behavior, awareness and body movements.
The term “epilepsy” doesn’t refer to a specific disease, but to a tendency to have recurrent, unprovoked seizures over time. Possible causes of seizures in children and adolescents are:
A seizure that occurs when a child has a high fever, called a febrile seizure, or due to some other cause, usually does not recur and isn’t considered epilepsy.
Febrile seizures most commonly occur between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.
“Although frightening to parents, most febrile seizures are harmless,” Dr. Gupta says. “Less than 5 percent of children who have these seizures go on to develop epilepsy.”
The 5 percent who do develop epilepsy typically have one or more of the following indicators:
Children without these risk factors most likely will not develop epilepsy, Dr. Gupta says.
“It’s very important that you don’t panic when your child has a seizure,” says Dr. Gupta. “Instead, try to stay calm and observe the child.”
To keep your child safe and prevent accidental injury during a seizure, he advises parents to do the following:
Dr. Gupta says most fever-induced seizures last for less than three minutes. He advises that you take your child to the pediatrician within the next day or two so your doctor can find the fever’s source.
Your description of your child’s seizure is important for helping the pediatrician with the evaluation. The doctor will likely perform physical examination and possibly some basic tests to ensure that nothing other than a fever has triggered the seizure.
Dr. Gupta says parents should educate themselves about febrile seizures. Also, ask your pediatrician for tips on keeping your child’s fever down during an illness. This may decrease the chances of fever-related seizures.
If convulsions last five minutes or longer, take the child to the nearest medical facility for evaluation right away.
“Also, seek urgent medical attention for a child who shows symptoms of extreme lethargy, vomiting or a stiff neck,” says Dr. Gupta.
Other causes for concern include:
If any symptoms cause you concern, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician.
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