November is Epilepsy Awareness month. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 1 in 10 people will have a seizure in their lifetime, and 1 in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy. In fact, 326,000 American children ages 15 and under have epilepsy, with 200,000 new cases being diagnosed each year. Those are staggering numbers, and seizures are frightening for everyone involved, especially the first time.
Signs of Seizure
According to the Epilepsy Therapy Project, signs of a seizure are difficult to determine. If your child expresses feeling odd, "fuzzy," or confused, or complains of unusual smells or tastes, it could be a sign of a seizure. In addition, memory lapses, episodes of daydreaming or staring into space are also signs of a seizure. When a seizure occurs, your child may experience jerking movements of an arm or leg, or the entire body. He may also be sleepy, weak, have a headache, numbness, or lose control of urine.
What to Do in the Event of a Seizure
If your child or another child has a seizure, stay calm. The NINDS recommends placing your child on the floor on his side to prevent injury or choking, and do not restrain him. Remove any objects from his mouth. Tilt his chin forward to open the breathing passage. Time the seizure and take your child to the doctor once the seizure has ended. It is especially urgent to call and visit the doctor if your child shows symptoms of a stiff neck, extreme lethargy, or vomiting. If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, call 911.
Febrile seizures are not a sign of epilepsy, but are seizures brought on by a fever that is usually greater than 102 degrees. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 1 in 25 children will have at least one febrile seizure and 1/3 of these children will have additional febrile seizures. They occur between the ages of 6 months and five years, but rarely occur for the first time after a child turns three. Most children will outgrow febrile seizures, and the seizures themselves are short and harmless. The NINDS says that 95 to 98 percent of children who experience febrile seizures do not develop epilepsy.
Epilepsy: Your Child's Friend
If a friend of your child, or perhaps your niece or nephew, has epilepsy, learn all that you can about the condition. Chances are, this child will be in your care at some point and knowing what to do in case of a seizure is essential for everyone. Talk to the child's parents and ask about how to respond and care for their child during a seizure. Know how and when to administer any medication the child takes. Make sure you have all of the contact numbers necessary in case of an emergency, including the child's doctor, who should be aware of who you are and when you will be caring for the child, especially if it is overnight or on an ongoing basis. Talk to your own children about epilepsy and treating people with epilepsy with respect. Discuss what will happen if their friend experiences a seizure while they are together. Explain to him that if his friend has a seizure he should immediately get you or another adult for help.
Epilepsy: Your Own Child
If your child has a seizure, it does not mean your child has epilepsy. According to WebMD, 10% of all children will have a single seizure and never have another. These seizures can be brought on by high fever, infection, low blood sugar, or drug withdrawal.
If your child has a seizure that is not caused by any of these factors, check with your child's doctor about the need for a thorough evaluatation. The Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology, the Child Neurology Society, and the American Epilepsy Society recommend routine screening with an EEG (electroencephalogram or electric tracing of the brain waves). This will help doctors find the cause, determine any risk of future seizures, and plan for any necessary treatments.
Other tests the doctors may want to perform include a spinal tap, which draws fluid from the spine to rule out infections, blood tests to check for diabetes, and an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to rule out brain abnormalities.
Seizures are extremely frightening for parents, but remembering to stay calm is important. It is important to try and time the seizure and remember any details surrounding it to tell the doctor about, including whether or not your child has been sick or been around other sick children recently. Check for any medicines or poisons your child may have gotten into. These are all important factors to share with the doctor to help him help your child.
This information does not replace medical advice given to you by a doctor. If you are concerned about possible seizures — or any other health issue — please consult with your child's physician.