• Consumer Health: Treating children with epilepsy

happy and content young school boy, perhaps Latino, resting his chin on his hands and smiling

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn about treating children with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects about 3.4 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone can develop epilepsy. It affects people of all races, ethnic backgrounds and ages. Epilepsy affects about 470,000 children in the U.S., according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

With epilepsy, brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness. Seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Signs and symptoms of seizures can include temporary confusion, staring, uncontrollable jerking movements of the limbs, and loss of consciousness or awareness.

Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half the people with the condition. In the other half, the condition may be traced to various factors, including:

  • Genetic influence.
  • Head trauma.
  • Brain abnormalities, including brain tumors, vascular abnormalities and stroke.
  • Infections, including meningitis, HIV and viral encephalitis.
  • Prenatal injury.
  • Developmental disorders, including autism.

High fevers in childhood can sometimes be associated with seizures. Children who have seizures due to high fevers generally won't develop epilepsy, though. The risk of epilepsy increases if a child has a long fever-associated seizure, another nervous system condition or a family history of epilepsy.

Medication is generally the first course of treatment for epilepsy. Finding the right medication or combination of medications, and the optimal dosages, can be complex, though. Your child's health care provider will consider your child's age and overall health, and the frequency of seizures, when choosing which medications to prescribe. Many children with epilepsy who aren't experiencing epilepsy symptoms can eventually discontinue medications and live a seizure-free life.

For some children with drug-resistant epilepsy, surgery is an option. Epilepsy surgery, which is considered when at least two anti-seizure medications have failed to work, removes or alters an area of the brain where seizures originate.

Experts at Mayo Clinic Children's Center also are studying neurostimulation treatments for epilepsy, an alternative treatment for children with severe epilepsy or for those who cannot have surgery. This treatment applies electricity to the central nervous system with the goal of reducing seizure frequency and severity.

Connect with other parents talking about their children and epilepsy treatments in the Epilepsy & Seizures support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.

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