Epilepsy In Kids: What You Need To Know

09 August 2021

Don purple attire with pride every year on March 26th and help spread awareness on epilepsy!

Epilepsy is not something that is new. In fact, it goes all the way back to 2000 B.C., but only recognised as a medical issue from the 18th and 19th centuries. The medical advancements and researches liberated epilepsy from the belief of it being part of religious superstitions. [1]

Now, what is epilepsy and what do we need to know about it? Dr. Tay Chee Geap, a consultant paediatrican and paediatric neurologist from Sunway Medical Centre is with Motherhood.com.my today to help us understand better!

What is epilepsy? What are the types and how do they differ?

Epilepsy is a condition that can cause people to have repeated seizures.

The brain contains a network of neurons (nerve cells) that create electrical impulses to communicate with one another.

Seizures occur when there are abnormal or excessive electrical impulses that disturb the brain function and cause altered awareness, behaviour change, and/or abnormal movements.

What is the cause of epilepsy? Is it hereditary?

Epilepsy may arise from a variety of causes:

  • Brain injury following head trauma, bleeding, lack of oxygen or infection.
  • Congenital brain malformation or disturbed metabolic processes in the body such as low blood sugar and abnormal electrolytes.

Although the majority of epilepsies are not hereditary, there is a small proportion that is hereditary. The index of suspicion is high when there are affected family members across the three-generation pedigree.   

 Nonetheless, many childhood epilepsies are idiopathic which means the cause is unknown.  

How common is epilepsy diagnosis among Malaysian kids? At what age does epilepsy usually start?

Epilepsy can happen at any age. There are two age peaks i.e.. during childhood and in the elderly where seizures occur more often than other age groups.

What are the warning signs of an epileptic seizure?

Certain seizure patterns such as drop attacks can be dangerous as the muscles can suddenly go limp and fall during the attack causing a high-impact head injury.

Thus, the duration, frequency and seizure pattern are important to determine how serious an epileptic seizure is. 

What triggers an epileptic seizure?

The most common triggers would be fever, stress, lack of sleep or tiredness and photosensitivity.

Is epilepsy treatable? 

In general, epilepsy is treatable. Some epilepsies are benign, which means children will outgrow them. Others may need long-term treatment or lifelong medication. 

Can an epileptic child outgrow their diagnosis, or does it worsen with age?

It depends on the underlying cause of epilepsy the child is diagnosed with. The majority of idiopathic childhood epilepsy gets better with age. However, epilepsy due to brain injuries as discussed earlier may require long-term treatment.

What should a parent do if their child has an epileptic seizure?

Seizures are very scary but the parent needs to stay calm. This is to ensure they take the right steps when handling seizures instead of doing the wrong ones. 

Here’s a guide to help parents understand the do’s and don’ts when handling seizures:

You would want to lay them on their side as children may foam at the mouth or drool during a seizure. If they are turned on their side, this will prevent the saliva from pooling in the back of their throat.

You would also want to record the seizure attack with your phone if the situation allows as this will be helpful to show to the doctor after the seizure attack. 

If you do put an object in your child’s mouth to avoid them from “cutting their tongues in half,” please don’t. That will not happen to your child. 

What would happen, instead, is that the objects may block your child’s airway or choke them. It may also injure their gums and teeth. 

After the attack, children may be confused and tired for several minutes or even hours.

Please remember, seizures that are more than 5 minutes need immediate medical attention.

What are the long-term effects of having seizures on one’s brain?

In uncomplicated cases, there is no obvious long-term impact on the brain and they do not cause damage to the brain. 

However, if the seizure becomes uncontrolled or refractory, it can lead to brain injury including delayed developmental milestones and intellectual disability. 

Note that if the seizures persist for more than 5 minutes, urgent medical attention is required as it may potentially harm the brain.

On top of that, children with frequent and uncontrolled seizure attacks (multiple times in a day or a week) need further medical evaluation to avoid any negative impact on the developing brain.

Can epileptics lead a normal life? In your opinion, are Malaysians currently aware enough of this condition?

Epilepsy is a treatable condition. If seizures are well controlled, they can live normal lives. In my opinion, most Malaysian are aware of this condition. However, this awareness is still very superficial. 

Many still need to be exposed to the correct ways to handle seizures instead of putting their fingers into a seizing child’s mouth. This causes them to injure themselves.

Perhaps, a continuing educational campaign or programme in epilepsy via social media may help in consolidating parental awareness and knowledge in epilepsy.  

Source: Motherhood