Understanding Childhood Seizures
A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. These disturbances in the brain may or may not cause noticeable symptoms. Seizures can cause changes in a person's behavior, movements, emotions, and levels of consciousness. It can take different forms and affect people in different ways. A person having a seizure might collapse, shake violently, or even just stare into space and become unresponsive. A seizure is not a disease by itself. It is usually a symptom of different illnesses that can affect the brain. In this article, we take a look at childhood seizures, what causes them, and how they’re treated.
What Causes Childhood Seizures?
There are many reasons why childhood seizures occur. Because a child's brain is developing, seizure activity changes as they grow up. Seizures differ in infants, toddlers, school-aged children, and teenagers.
A febrile seizure is a fever-related seizure typically experienced by children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Children below 5 years are especially vulnerable because they do not have a fully developed immune system. This is the most common type of seizure in children.
You can recognize this type of seizure when your child jerks and stiffens for several minutes. You will notice that your child's eyes bulge, both hands flicker, and their feet become rigid. This scene is sometimes followed by convulsion.
The seizure episode will last up to five minutes or less. Afterward, the child regains consciousness and quickly recovers. It is normal if your child does not remember the seizure. The seizure episode does not usually reoccur in 24 hours.
A febrile seizure happens when your child has a medium to a high degree of fever at body temperature that exceeds 100.4F.
What Triggers It?
The main trigger of febrile seizures is the fever itself. The fever can be due to any illness such as ear infection, upper respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis. It could also be a febrile seizure after immunization.
For most children, the cause of febrile seizures may not be known. But there are risk factors identified. A child who is developmentally delayed is more likely to experience a febrile seizure.
If your child experienced a febrile seizure in the past, they are likely to have a second episode, usually within a year. Family history is also another factor to consider. Children with siblings who had a febrile seizure will likely experience the same occurrence.
It is not considered febrile seizure if your child experiences a seizure without a fever. Seizure with fever in babies below 1-month-old is also not a febrile seizure - it is called neonatal seizure.
Nonfebrile seizures or recurring seizures unrelated to fever are sometimes a sign of epilepsy. Epilepsy is a disease in which repeated seizures are triggered from within the brain. Some children diagnosed with epilepsy continue to have repeated seizures until they reach adulthood. Others improve over time.
A nonfebrile seizure can be classified into a partial seizure and generalized seizure. The most common form of epilepsy in children is the partial seizure. It involves only a part of the brain and only a part of the body.
On the other hand, generalized seizure involves a more significant portion of the brain. It can be convulsive or nonconvulsive.
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If your child had a nonfebrile seizure for the first time, doctors would look for history or clinical findings such as vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, or change in alertness. If there is none, your child may not be required to undergo any laboratory tests.
In scenarios where there is no identifiable cause, your child's doctor may screen him for possible toxic ingestion or exposure.
How is a Seizure Diagnosed?
The treatment will be based on the type of seizure your child is having. Doctors will obtain a detailed medical history of your child to determine the cause of the seizure.
You should tell the doctor about your child's birth history, any recent illness, and any medications or chemicals that your child could have been exposed to.
Diagnostic tests may be done to help determine the cause of a seizure. This includes electroencephalogram (EEG), lumbar puncture, laboratory tests, or neuroimaging.
What to Do if Your Child Has a Seizure
During a seizure episode, it is crucial to protect your child from additional injuries. Stay calm and do not panic.
Place your child on a soft surface like a bed and tilt them to avoid choking. Remove any harmful or sharp objects around the area. Make sure to not put anything into your child's mouth.
Avoid restraining their movement. Check their breathing and loosen their clothing. You may check their temperature as well.
If your child has a fever, provide a warm compress on their forehead, armpits, and thigh folds. This is useful to lower the temperature on the body surface. You may administer a fever medicine when your child is already conscious.
Remember to check the time and duration of the seizure episode. If it lasts for more than five minutes and your child's body temperature is more than 104F, you should bring them immediately to the doctor.
How is a Seizure Treated?
Usually, your child who had a first-time seizure, will not be placed on medication, unless a specific cause of the seizure is identified.
For febrile seizures, your child will be given medication to relieve the fever. They may also receive additional medication if a particular infection is found. Generally, children with febrile seizures are not admitted to the hospital.
For nonfebrile seizures, an antiseizure medication is given. Your child may probably be admitted to the hospital, especially if they are very young and have abnormal physical examination findings or lab test results. A child in status epilepticus is admitted to an intensive care unit.
A seizure is relatively common in children. Many of them outgrow seizures as their brains mature.
Help your child avoid anything that could trigger a seizure. Fevers should be well-controlled when your child is sick. Knowledge in handling seizure is essential to prevent further injury to your child. It is advisable to visit your healthcare provider regularly to monitor your child's overall health and development.