Explained: What causes Seizures in Children- 6 Important things to Know

Children are precious to every parent. It is indeed heart wrecking to witness something happening to them. A seizure is one of the most dreadful things that can happen to a child. It is a medical condition caused due to unexpected abnormal and sudden electrical currents in the brain1. Seizures result in sudden jerking of the entire body that lasts only a few minutes and stops. It is a common problem known to occur in children. About 10 per cent of children get at least one occurrence of seizure in their life. Read on to discover what causes seizures in children.

1. Seizures in Human

Seizure is associated with visual and dramatic symptoms of becoming unconscious and experiencing uncontrollable and sudden jerk movement of the body. However, the signs and symptoms differ based on what part of the brain is affected. In some cases, a seizure occurs asymptomatically2, feeling an odd sensation that develops and occurs suddenly. The feeling will sooner turn into a convolution. Convulsion means that the body will be experiencing uncontrolled shaking. 

Seizures in humans are curable as many recover from them as they grow. Epilepsy is a condition where children have shown greater chances and a tendency to develop a seizure. About one-four per cent of children develop epilepsy. Let us now read what causes seizures in children.

2. What Causes Seizures in Children

There are two types of seizures – Provoked seizures and Unprovoked seizures3. Read on to discover what causes seizures in Children.

2.1 Provoked Seizures

Instances of provoked seizures are due to various medical conditions. The most common causes are high or low blood sugar levels, head trauma, brain injury, injury to the spinal cord, a viral infection or even abnormal blood pressure and hypertension. In rare cases, serious medical issues of a heart attack, organ failures such as kidney and liver or severe damage to the spinal cord can also result in epilepsy syndromes. Sometimes high fever can also result in epileptic seizures in children.

2.2 Unprovoked Seizure

The most dangerous type of seizure is an unprovoked seizure. They do not have any clear underlying cause and the diagnosis entails medical evaluation by a child specialist doctor. These seizures may become recurrent seizures if not treated in time. A genetic condition or a disorder in the brain and nervous system can be a reason for developing epilepsy and unprovoked seizure.

It is difficult to obtain an accurate diagnosis of the actual cause of seizures that occur in children. Despite this fact, doctors can help to control the occurrence of seizures in children through various treatments.

3. Types of Seizures

Different types of seizures in children have been established in the medical field. The few common types of seizure are enumerated below:-

3.1 Focal Seizures

Focal seizure refers to the type of seizure in which the seizure activity affects a part of the brain and resonates with other parts of the brain.

Focal seizures in children are the most common type of seizure. The symptoms of focal seizures involve numerous feelings such as body imbalance, head spinning, pins and needles, confusion, anger, involuntary gestures and uncontrolled body movements.

Children with a history of seizures have reported a loss of memory, Garbled speech, laughing or crying and unique tastes and smells.

There are two types of focal seizures in children.

3.1.1 Focal Aware Seizure

Also known as a simple partial seizure, the child suffering will remember when having seizures. The child remains aware whenever it occurs.

3.1.2 Focal Impaired Seizure

Known as complex partial seizures, the child suffering will neither be aware of when it occurs nor remember the occurrence of seizure in the past.

3.2 Generalized Seizures

Generalized Seizures refer to the type of seizure which affects the entire brain at the beginning of the seizure and all at once. It is classified into two types of seizure – absence seizure and motor seizures.

An absence seizure is also known as petit mal seizure and is the most common among children. The seizure may occur many times in a day but usually lasts for less than 15 sec.

There are medically four generalised motor seizures.

3.2.1 Atonic Seizures

When a child suffers from sudden seizures that result in the loss of muscle tone, he is experimenting with atonic seizures. This condition is also known as a drop attack. Loss of consciousness and dropping down of the head are a few symptoms of atonic seizures.4

3.2.2 Myoclonic Seizures

During Myoclonic seizures, shock-like muscle contractions affect single or both limbs. It can either happen single seizure or in clusters.

3.2.3 Tonic seizures

When tonic seizures occur in children, the entire body stiffens up. If it happens when the child is sitting or standing, the child might fall on the ground.

3.3 Infantile Seizure

Infantile seizure or spasm is a type of seizure that occurs in the first year of life. It is the most heart wrecking site to see a newborn child suffering from a seizure. The seizures may start as a sudden spasm near the head and transit downward in head-jerking movements. It might occur as a single seizure or as a cluster of spasms in the arms and legs.

Seizures usually occur when the child is about to wake up or sleep. Though it starts as a subtle symptom, it slowly becomes more prominent.

Infantile spasms may cause developmental delay and medical emergencies. The child may have a delay in muscle tone and resulting in a delay in crawling.

3.4 Status Epilepticus

Considered a severe case of seizure, it includes sudden convulsions that last for more than five minutes. It is a medical emergency involving a convulsive seizure. In some rare disorders, the convulsions can last for more than 30 minutes which causes permanent damage to brain cells. Having read what causes seizures in children, let us now focus on the signs and symptoms of seizures.

4. Signs and Symptoms of Seizures

Many seizures have subtle symptoms, unlike those shown on television that involve a person lying on the ground with severe body movements. These symptoms are difficult to be noticed in infants. Seizures diagnosed as absence seizures, focal seizures, grand mal seizures, infantile spasms, generalized tonic-clonic seizures or partial seizures can be asymptomatic. Despite abnormal electrical brain function, the symptoms may not be evident. 

The most common symptoms are classified as Non-Motor Symptoms and Motor Symptoms.

4.1 Non-Motor Symptoms

The non-motor symptoms are not related to muscles and limbs. They are linked to the spinal cord and brain-related issues. These include changing facial and lip colour, a unique and weird feeling, disinterest, daydreaming, uncontrolled movement of eyes and head, experiencing visuals of stars and shapes and bladder control falling suddenly.

Non-motor symptoms have resulted in periods appearing confused due to electrical activity in the child’s brain in the temporal and occipital lobes. Failure of bowel or bladder control is also due to abnormal electrical brain function and is most common in focal seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures.5

The reasons that trigger seizures, especially convulsive seizures require to be monitored by the parents. The parents should consult with the child’s doctor. Seizures tend to the central nervous system due to malfunctioning electrical activity and thus require attention to care.

4.2 Motor Symptoms

Motor symptoms include seizure activity that tends to affect muscle tone and cause nerve cells to induce muscle malfunctioning. Automatism is the common motor symptom in tonic-clonic seizures and in seizures called grand mal seizures and petit mal seizures. Automatism is the continuous repetition of certain activities like fiddling and lip-smacking.

In febrile seizures, generalized seizures, focal seizures and other types of seizures, convulsion is a common motor symptom. Convulsion affects cerebral spinal fluid that develops epilepsy syndromes. A child regains consciousness after a convulsion.

Other motor symptoms include consciousness breathing problems, disorders in isolated muscle groups and especially in a young child due to abnormal electrical brain function, face drooping and intellectual disability. Severe seizures tend to cause brain damage.

4.3 Auras

Auras are an indication to a patient of an imminent seizure attack. It may last for some seconds to over 20 minutes. It is considered a warning sign to the patient of the occurrence of a seizure. Aura can happen in all types of seizures, including febrile seizures, generalized seizures and even in the absence of seizures.

A sudden appearance of any specific feeling of numbness, increased heartbeat, headache or a change in the emotional state is because of Aura. Even experiencing a change in smell or taste is due to Aura. The changes in smell and taste are due to abnormal electrical discharge in the occipital and temporal lobes.

Aura helps people to immediately ask for help or help themselves into a comfortable position to tackle seizures and related jerking movements of the body. We now know what causes seizures in children. 

Let us discuss how to help a child with a seizure.

5. Helping Children with Seizures

It is indeed worrisome for parents with children suffering from seizures. However, in most cases, children outgrow the tendency. Some of the ways to help a child with seizures are as follows

Remain calm and composed when handling children with seizures. You are required to reassure your child and make them comfortable once the child regains consciousness.

There are possibilities of your child getting head trauma due to head injury because of sudden jerking movement of the body. Keep all objects that cause harm to them away from the child.

If the child exhibits symptoms of a seizure, place a pillow or any soft material beneath the head of the child. Loosen the child’s clothes to prevent consciousness breathing problems. You may roll over on his stomach. You need to observe what causes triggering seizures especially if it is a case of absence seizures.

There are some do not’s in case the child suffers from a seizure. It is a common myth that a person suffering from a seizure tends to swallow their tongue. This is a false statement and therefore do not keep anything inside the mouth of the child. During a convulsion, the child will have uncontrolled jerking movements. Do not try to restrict body movement. It will result in further injuries. Last but not least, do not force feed water or any liquid into the mouth of the child as it can choke and suffocate him.

6. Resuscitating Your Child

Once the seizure lapses, you have to know that it is the most significant phase in the child’s recovery. Call your child’s doctor for advice. A few tips on handling situations are enumerated below:

Seizure as mentioned before is due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The violent body movement and the effect on the brain will confuse your child. You will need to calm the child. If sleepy, they should be made comfortable on a bed for sleep.

Seizure tends to cause loss of bowel or bladder control. Your child may have passed urine or even stool in his pants during a seizure. Make sure your child does not feel guilty about the same. Clean them up and change their clothing before letting them sleep.

Check the child’s mouth for any blood. The child might have bitten his tongue during a convulsion. Provide first aid to the child in case of any injury.

You need to understand that seizures can be a critical medical issue. You will be required to call your child’s doctor and an ambulance immediately if the child suffers from more than a single seizure known as a cluster or when the child does not regain consciousness after a seizure. You will also need to panic if the child does not start breathing properly post-seizure. Having a seizure in water can cause drowning and requires immediate medical assistance.

7. Seizure and its Diagnose

A pediatric neurologist or an epileptologist are doctors specialised in children’s nervous system and a specialist in epilepsy and seizures in children respectively. You need to consult these doctors if your child suffers from any cases of seizure.

EEG and MRI are the recommended tests to ascertain the root cause of Seizure. Do keep the history of illness of the child as a record as this will aid your child’s doctor in correctly diagnosing seizures. Seizures also occur due to genetic issues. So do not be surprised if the doctor prescribes genetic testing for your child. It is necessary to identify the root cause of seizures in children for the correct treatment of your child.

8. Treatment for Child’s Seizures

Anti-Seizure medication will be prescribed by your child’s doctor based on their finding. These are effective medications against seizures. The dose of the medicine will be based on various factors that include the timely diagnosis of epilepsy and the health of your child. The weight and age of the children also decide the dosage and type of medicines prescribed.

what causes seizures in children
By Matvevna from Pixabay/ copyright 2017

Though the medications are meant to aid children to outgrow seizures with minimum side effects, the medicine can result in a delay in the development of the child’s brain and cause other side effects related to the brain. You will be required to inform your child’s doctor if the medication is ineffective and if the child starts to show symptoms of seizure again.

Please, do remember that one-third of the children who suffer from epilepsy have a condition called intractable epilepsy. This refers to a situation where they continue to suffer from seizures despite taking proper medicines. Do inform your doctor if you observe traces of intractable epilepsy in your child.

9. Seizure Prevention in Children

Unless your child has absence seizures, you need to carefully analyse the reason or incident that triggers seizures in your child. The reasons are usually called seizure triggers. These are not usually very evident.

Usually, fatigue becomes the triggering factor in your child. Make sure your child gets sufficient sleep and recovers from fatigue. The child need not be, however, restrained from daily activities. A timely sleep schedule would suffice for resting of child and treating fatigue.

Another trigger for children’s seizures is stress. Make sure the child maintains peace and is not subjected to emotional stress. You may seek help from a psychologist to help your child to maintain a stress-free childhood.

A seizure refers to abnormal activity or functioning in the brain. High fever is also known as a trigger for seizures. If your child suffers from a high fever, all efforts should be in place to get the temperature down. Rush to the hospital if you are unable to control the high temperature.

If your child suffers from a seizure, be advised to keep him away from video games and other flashing screens. The visual stimulus can also trigger a seizure. There have been various occasions when flashing videos on TV have resulted in seizures in a large number of children at the same time.

Speak to your child about Aura, the best indication of an upcoming seizure. Maintain a log of the occurrence of the same to help your doctor to assess the condition. Do not forget to mention the duration and the possible cause of the seizure.

Final Note

Seizure is a brain-induced disorder due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The child suffering from it may be asymptomatic in case of the absence of seizure or may have severe symptoms with uncontrolled jerking movement of the body. It can occur in a child called infantile spasms or even in a young child called partial seizures or febrile seizures.

The diagnosis will require your child to undergo EEG or MRI along with a genetic check. You will need to remain calm when dealing with your child. Timely medication and prevention of triggers will help him outgrow the same.

  1. Caton, Richard. “Electrical currents of the brain.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 2.4 (1875): 610. ↩︎
  2. Kobayashi, Eliane, et al. “Magnetic resonance imaging evidence of hippocampal sclerosis in asymptomatic, first-degree relatives of patients with familial mesial temporal lobe epilepsy.” Archives of neurology 59.12 (2002): 1891-1894. ↩︎
  3. Hauser, W. Allen, John F. Annegers, and Leonard T. Kurland. “Incidence of epilepsy and unprovoked seizures in Rochester, Minnesota: 1935–1984.” Epilepsia 34.3 (1993): 453-458. ↩︎
  4. Duchowny, Michael S. “Atonic seizures.” Pediatrics in Review 9.2 (1987): 43-49. ↩︎
  5. Theodore, W. H., et al. “The secondarily generalized tonic‐clonic seizure: a videotape analysis.” Neurology 44.8 (1994): 1403-1403. ↩︎

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