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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by an increased susceptibility to repeated, unprovoked seizures.
A seizure is a sudden episode of electrical activity in the brain that can cause involuntary movements and behavior changes.
30 to 50 percent of children with cerebral palsy will experience co-occurring epilepsy. Epilepsy is most common among children who have limited mobility.
Epilepsy is not a disease, but rather a spectrum condition characterized by unpredictable, recurrent seizures. Not all people will experience the same symptoms of epilepsy, and seizures can range from mild to severe.
Seizures are common among children with cerebral palsy because CP is caused by a brain injury occurring before, during or shortly after birth. Brain injuries increase the chance for abnormal nerve activity to occur within the brain, which can result in seizures. Children with hemiplegia and quadriplegia are most at risk for co-occurring CP and epilepsy.
There are about 180,000 new cases of epilepsy diagnosed every year, with about 40% of these occurring in children. Epilepsy is most commonly caused by some form of injury to the brain. However, there is often no clear indication of what exactly caused a seizure to occur.
Some main causes of epilepsy are:
About 70% of all cases of epilepsy in adult and children have no obvious cause. While locating a direct reason for seizures can be difficult, there are a number of risk factors that can increase one’s chance for developing epilepsy.
Risk factors for epilepsy include:
While epilepsy is unique to each individual, there are two general categories of seizures that occur with this condition. Each type of seizure has different causes, symptoms and treatment methods. It’s important to seek medical professionals that are experienced in the specific form of epilepsy your child has.
The two main categories of epilepsy are:
Focal seizures occur when only one part of the brain experiences abnormal electrical activity. Focal seizures are usually named based on the area of the brain in which they take place. For example, an individual might be diagnosed with “focal frontal lobe seizures”.
About 60 percent of people with epilepsy are diagnosed with focal seizures. This type or seizure disorder can be further broken down into 2 additional sub-categories.
The categories of focal seizures are:
In both simple and complex focal seizures, it is common that people report experiencing auras, or unusual sensations that warn of an impending seizure. The symptoms of an aura tend to remain consistent, which makes it easier for people with epilepsy to quickly identify the sensation and quickly prepare for the seizure or inform others around them.
Generalized seizures are caused by abnormal brain activity that begins on both sides of the brain, and this can result in a loss of consciousness. These types of seizures can be “convulsive” or “non-convulsive”, meaning that seizures can occur with generalized motor movements (convulsive) or without generalized motor movements (non-convulsive).
Generalized seizures can be further broken down into additional types:
Witnessing your child have a seizure can be an incredibly stressful and scary situation, especially if it is one of the first times this has occurred. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help keep things under control.
Many people become nervous when they see someone having a seizure. Try to stay quiet, calm and reassuring to both your child and others.
If your child is near a stairway, busy street, or around other hazards, try to protect them from any further injury as much as possible. Remove any dangerous objects that may be nearby and place something soft under their head, such as a folded jacket.
Taking note of when the seizure began and ended is an important step. If it is your child’s first seizure, or it lasts longer than 5 minutes, call 911 immediately.
This includes things such as removing glasses, loosening any tight or restrictive clothing around the neck and chest, and loosening belts or buttons. If possible, try to roll your child on their side so that any fluids can drain out of the mouth.
It is a common misconception that things such as spoons, fingers or other objects should be inserted into a child’s mouth to prevent them from swallowing their tongue. However, it is very important that nothing be inserted into the mouth during a seizure, as this can actually cause them to choke.
If the seizure occurs in a public place, try asking bystanders to keep their distance from your child. When they wake up, they may feel a rush of embarrassment or nervousness, so it is best to keep only necessary personnel around during a seizure.
After your child experiences a seizure, it is important to contact their pediatrician to get further medical advice regarding the situation. If your child is experiencing pain, muscle aches, a bitten tongue or a fever following a seizure, this may require emergency medical attention.
Treatment for coexisting CP and epilepsy is dependent upon the type of cerebral palsy a child has, as well as the form of epilepsy they are experiencing. The rate of coexisting CP and epilepsy is relatively high, so parents should seek out medical professionals that are trained in the best treatment methods for this type of co-occurrence.
There are several methods that can be used to treat CP and epilepsy, such as:
Physical therapy. Used to improve balance, posture and coordination
Speech therapy. Used to help with articulation, communication and comprehension
Occupational therapy. Used to increase independence when completing everyday tasks, such as getting dressed or eating.
Medications. Used to reduce symptoms and increase overall health and well being
Surgery. Used to locate brain damage and nerves that are not functioning properly.
Do you think that your child’s co-occurring cerebral palsy and epilepsy could have been caused by medical negligence? If you have any reason to believe that a medical team or hospital is to blame for your child’s condition, begin our free case evaluation today.
Kimberlee is a writer and researcher who is passionate about helping children with disabilities enjoy a happy, healthy life. She works closely with our attorneys to create content that educates the families and caretakers of children with cerebral palsy.