A seizure is a sudden change in behavior. It is caused by sudden, abnormal, and excessive electrical activity in the brain. A neonatal seizure occurs in newborn babies.
Seizures may be severe or mild. They may cause physical changes like convulsions. It may affect only part of the body or the entire body. A short seizure itself does not cause serious health conditions. Prolonged seizures can lead to permanent damage. The damage is due to decreased oxygen and excessive brain cell activity.
A seizure may be a symptom or side effect of a more serious health condition. If your child has a seizure your doctor will want to find out what caused it.
There are a variety of causes of seizures in children, which include:
- Conditions like epilepsy
- An injury or trauma to the head
- Infections, including meningitis and abscesses in the brain
- Brain tumor
- Accidental poisoning
Certain medical conditions, including:
- Low blood sugar
- Very high fever—called febrile seizures
- Electrolyte abnormalities
- Congenital diseases or deformities
Sometimes seizures occur for unknown reasons.
Factors that may increase your child's risk of having a seizure include:
- Having had a previous seizure
- Having a very high fever
Having health conditions like:
- Brain tumors
- Brain infections
- Having a family history of seizures.
Seizure symptoms may include:
- Staring, or a dazed look
- Jerking movements of the limbs and/or body (convulsions)
- Difficulty breathing
- Eyes rolling back in the head
- Crying or moaning
If you suspect your child is having a seizure, act quickly:
- Protect from physical injury—Place your child on the floor or bed. Make sure they are not near any hard or sharp objects.
- Protect airway—Do not place anything in your child's mouth during the convulsion. Turn your child’s head to the side. This will allow saliva or vomit to drain from the mouth.
- Watch the time—The length of the convulsions should be less than five minutes.
- Unless the doctor has told you otherwise, call for emergency medical services.
You will be asked about your child‘s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may be done to look for the cause of the seizure.
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Lumbar puncture
- Blood tests
Images may be taken of your child's brain. This can be done with:
You child's brain activity may be tested. This can be done with an EEG.
Treatment for the seizures depends on the cause of the seizures. Some seizures will not require treatment. If the seizure is caused by an underlying condition, your child's doctor will create a plan to treat that condition. Resolving the underlying condition will likely stop the seizures.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. You may also be referred to a pediatric neurologist.
Anticonvulsant medication can help to prevent seizures. The medication that is used will depend on the type of seizure. These medications do have some side effects. As a result, they are often only used for severe or frequent seizures.
Medications are not usually prescribed for febrile seizures. These seizures are associated with a rapid increase in temperature due to a fever. Children will outgrow these seizures by about 5 years of age. They are rarely associated with long term problems so anticonvulsant medication is rarely recommended.
Some severe seizures may be treated with brain surgery. This may occur in some children with epilepsy. During this type of surgery certain nerve fibers may be separate or a section of the brain may be removed. This surgery may help to reduce or eliminate seizures. Surgery is not done very often.
Medication, if recommended, can usually prevent seizures. It is important to take anticonvulsant medication as needed.
Febrile seizures are may be the first sign of a fever. This can make it difficult to prevent. Your child may have another seizure when a fever is present in the future. Your doctor may advise that you give your child medication to keep fever down whenever he or she gets sick.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. Ask your doctor which other medications are safe for your child.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Febrile seizure. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113623/Febrile-seizure. Updated March 22, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Hogan T. Seizure disorders in childhood. Loyola University Medical Education Network website. Available at: http://www.meddean.luc.edu/lumen/MedED/pedneuro/epilepsy.htm. Accessed September 15, 2015.
Neonatal seizures. Intensive Care Nursery Staff House Manual. UCSF Children's Hospital website. Available at: https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/pdf/manuals/48_Seizures.pdf. Published 2004. Accessed September 15, 2015.
Seizure in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T550165/Seizure-in-children. Updated April 11, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.