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Understanding Pediatric Seizures and Epilepsy
Know How to Identify, Treat, and Cope with Seizures and Epilepsy
March 01, 2011Living with seizures
If you've ever seen a child experience a seizure, you know it can be a frightening thing for a parent to witness. In spite of how scary a seizure appears, the majority of children who have been diagnosed with seizures are able to live seizure- and symptom-free lives and have a normal childhood.
"Epilepsy and seizures are more common than most people realize. Many children will have only a single seizure or seizures caused by fever or illness. Epilepsy is a chronic condition, just like asthma or diabetes, where seizures occur and recur without cause," explains James Pappas, M.D., a pediatric neurologist with Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent. "Our goal is to improve quality of life and help children lead a normal life when possible."
To do that, the first thing your doctor will do is diagnose the type of seizure your child is experiencing. Seizures may be partial, involving only part of the brain and body. They may be more generalized and widespread, affecting the whole body or simply causing a period of decreased awareness. Epilepsy is defined as two or more seizures without an immediate cause.
Understanding the symptoms
Your observations during a seizure are key to making a diagnosis. Generalized convulsions, or rhythmic jerking with muscle spasms (sometimes accompanied by breathing difficulty or rolling eyes), are the symptoms with which most people are familiar. Convulsions are most often associated with grand mal or febrile seizures. Seizures may involve both sides or just one side (partial seizure).
Another type of seizure, the petit mal or absence seizure, displays a whole different set of symptoms. Children with this type of seizure develop a loss of awareness with staring or blinking lasting only seconds. This type of seizure can go undiagnosed longer as it may appear, at first, that your child is daydreaming or has focus/attention issues.
Seeking medical treatment
If you suspect your child may be suffering from seizures, you should visit your primary care physician. If the seizures last more than five minutes, take your child to the nearest children's emergency center.
"Sometimes parents may not know that seizures are what a child is experiencing, but they know that something isn't normal," shares Lisa McGuire, M.D., also a pediatric neurologist with Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent. "I tell parents to trust their gut. You know your child and if something doesn't seem normal you should report it."
Dr. McGuire says parents' description of the seizures is particularly helpful because your doctor won't witness them since seizures are generally unpredictable and short-lived. She asks parents if a child was asleep or awake, or sick or Healthy during seizures; if any injuries resulted from them; if consciousness was lost or impaired; and if they had warning before the seizures.
Being a normal kid
Most children diagnosed with epilepsy will lead a normal life. In fact, with 70 percent of the children able to control symptoms with medication, most children with seizures or epilepsy are undetectable from other children.
"Most of our young patients have normal lives with the help of medication. For those who don't respond as well to medication, there are still things we do and encourage the parents to do to improve their quality of life," Dr. Pappas explains. "As much as possible, we want children with epilepsy to go out and be a normal kids."
Appointments with Drs. Pappas and McGuire can be scheduled by calling 317-338-1600.
Pediatric neurologists with Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent