Epilepsy is a condition caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain that produces symptoms such as confusion, staring spells, and most commonly, episodes of involuntary shaking (seizures), which may be followed by periods of unconsciousness. Epilepsy usually begins in childhood.
Seizures may be generalized, involving the whole brain, or partial, where a part of the brain is involved. Generalized seizures may present as staring spells, unconsciousness, sporadic jerking movements, muscle rigidity, or loss of muscle tone causing your child to fall down. Partial seizures may produce changes in sensation (hearing, vision, smell, taste or touch), involuntary chewing, lip smacking and other repetitive movements, and emotional disturbances.
Your child’s doctor will try to rule out other possible causes of seizures before confirming a diagnosis of epilepsy. A thorough history and physical examination is performed. Your child’s doctor may order blood tests, an electroencephalogram (EEG), to study the electrical activity of the brain, and an MRI to look for brain abnormalities.
After diagnosing epilepsy, your child’s doctor will decide whether or not anti-seizure medication should be started. This will depend on the kind of epilepsy, chances of recurrence, age of your child and presence of developmental or behavioral abnormalities. If medications are ineffective, surgery may be suggested such as vagus nerve stimulation, where an implanted device reduces the frequency of seizures, or resection of specific regions of the brain from where the seizures arise. You may be advised to start your child on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.
Epilepsy and epileptic treatment may lead to learning disabilities and changes in behavior. Appropriate support should be provided to help your child to cope.