Seizures occur when nerve cells in the brain (called neurons) misfire and send out an electrical surge. This abnormal electrical activity in the brain can cause a brief loss of control of the body and/or mental awareness, which may last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Seizures can be frightening to witness—especially if your child is having one. But it may help to know a few facts about seizures in children and that in most instances, they are generally not life-threatening.
Is It a Seizure?
Depending on severity and the part of the brain affected (whether the entire brain or a small area), a number of different signs and symptoms may occur during a seizure, including:
Loss of consciousness (blacking out)
A sudden feeling of fear or panic
Uncontrolled shaking of an arm or leg
Uncontrolled urination (peeing) or bowel movement (pooping)
In newborns, seizures can be harder to detect compared to older kids. Babies have many normal jerks, grimaces, stares, and mouth movements that can make diagnosis difficult. But if you suspect your infant is having seizures, call your pediatrician right away.
Call 911 immediately if a child’s lips, tongue, or face turn a bluish color during a seizure—this is a sign the child is not getting enough oxygen.
Seizures in Children
It is possible for a child to have only one seizure in his or her lifetime and never experience another one again. This may be especially true if the seizure is caused by a high fever (also known as a febrile seizure), a head injury, accidental poisoning, or a drug overdose.
When there is no obvious reason for seizures, family history may play a role and has been associated with epilepsy.
Epilepsy—a Seizure Disorder
Seizures that happen more than once without a known cause may be a sign of epilepsy. Epilepsy can be an ongoing disorder of the brain that causes a wide range of seizure types.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are about 450,000 children with epilepsy in the U.S. About 2 out of 3 children with epilepsy outgrow their seizures by the time they are teenagers. Of course, if your child has been diagnosed with epilepsy, speak to your doctor to make sure your child’s seizures are controlled as much as possible.
Unfortunately, epilepsy is still misunderstood. You may want to help educate your child’s school or sports staff about epilepsy to dispel some myths about the condition. Epilepsy is not a mental illness, is not contagious, and does not affect a child’s intelligence. Check out this parent toolkit provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called You Are Not Alone.
What to Do During a Seizure
If your child has a seizure, or is diagnosed with a seizure disorder, it is important to know what to do when a seizure happens. Here are some things that you can do:
Make sure your child is in a safe place where he or she cannot get hurt. Place your child on the ground or floor on his or her side if possible. Remove any nearby objects
Put something soft under the head
Loosen any clothing around the head or neck
Do not try to wedge your child's mouth open or place an object between the teeth
Do not try to restrain movements
Keep track of how long the seizure lasts
Comfort your child when the seizure is over
Let your child remain lying down until fully recovered or until he or she wants to get up
On The Doctors, our Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall sits down with a star from the musical Hamilton to discuss his daughter’s epilepsy and why research is needed to uncover more about the condition in babies and children.