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Health Tips for Parents


Health Tips for Parents

2011 Issues

Are all seizures in children dangerous?


HT-April2011-Seizures in childrenSeeing a child shake uncontrollably with a seizure is understandably frightening for parents, who may assume their child has epilepsy. But there are many reasons a baby or child may have a seizure and, with proper treatment, many seizures will not recur.

A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that can cause convulsions, quick jerky movements of the limbs, or short periods of blank staring or disorientation. While some seizures involve the entire body, partial seizures may affect only one limb or one portion of the body.

“Parents need to know there are a number of seizure disorders in early childhood that may be benign,” says Raman Sankar, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Neurology and Rubin Brown Distinguished Chair. “It’s very important when you encounter any kind of seizure to get an accurate diagnosis.”

Seizures in children may be caused by metabolic imbalances, genetic conditions, brain malformations, trauma and infections. But a high fever, especially when accompanied by an illness such as chickenpox, the flu or an ear infection, is the most common cause of seizure in children between the ages of 1 and 2.

“Severe gastroenteritis (intestinal infection) for instance, can cause some children to have a seizure, especially if they have become dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea,” Dr. Sankar says. “Several inherited metabolic disorders can produce seizures and can often be managed with special diets and/or nutritional supplements.”

Usually harmless, fever-induced seizures afflict between 3 and 5 percent of all babies in the United States. Most babies with febrile seizures will out grow them before their fifth birthday.

About one in four children who are evaluated for seizures turn out to be suffering from some other condition such as migraines, fainting spells, night terrors or psychiatric disturbances.

Epilepsy is an umbrella term for recurrent seizures that have no provocation, such as low blood sugar, electrolyte abnormalities, et cetera. About 1 percent of all children in the United States have recurrent seizures. While some forms of epilepsy will persist into adulthood, other types will resolve in adolescence.

What treatment options are available?

UCLA has a comprehensive Pediatric Epilepsy Program that evaluates and treats children with all types of seizure disorders. Treatments offered include medication and dietary therapy, as well as electrical stimulation and several surgical options for children whose seizures cannot be controlled any other way.

What should I do if my child has a seizure?

  • Do not physically restrain a child during a convulsive seizure. If your baby is swaddled, remove any tight clothing or blankets.
  • Make sure you eliminate anything from your child’s immediate surroundings that could cause injury.
  • Babies should be gently placed on their sides, preferably on a bed, to prevent them from choking on their saliva.
  • Don’t put anything in your child’s mouth.
  • Allow the seizure to end naturally. Most will stop in less than a minute.
  • Call your pediatrician or 911.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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