Epilepsy is a chronic (ongoing) neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures as a result of excessive and abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The electrical activity can cause muscle fibers to twitch and contract, resulting in the physical manifestations of seizures. Researchers aren’t sure what causes epilepsy, although genetic disorders, infections, and brain trauma are all possible causes for some patients. Not every type of seizure is related to epilepsy, so patients who have seizures require a very careful evaluation to ensure the right diagnosis is made.
The characteristic symptom of epilepsy is seizure. Seizures can affect the entire body, causing rigidity followed by a period of twitching and rapid limb movements, or they may be focal, affecting just one portion of the body. Loss of urine and respiratory difficulties may also accompany a seizure.
Children often have what’s known as petit mal seizures, characterized by brief periods of impaired consciousness, blank staring, or repetitive blinking. These seizures are very brief, sometimes lasting just a few seconds, and they may occur many times a day. Like many other chronic conditions, epilepsy symptoms can range from mild to severe. Often, children are confused or dazed following a longer seizure.
Diagnosis begins with a careful review of symptoms and a physical exam. Blood tests and a neurological exam may also be ordered to help rule out other possible causes of seizures. Other evaluations may also be recommended, including:
Epilepsy in children usually can be controlled with regular use of one or more medications. In some cases, the child can stop taking the medication and enjoy a seizure-free life eventually, while other patients need to take medication into adulthood. For severe cases, surgery may be recommended to treat the area of the brain where abnormal activity occurs.