|Once it has been determined that your child has indeed had a seizure, it is important to figure out which type of seizure it was. This is especially important because different types of seizures often have a better response with different medicines.
If your child has a seizure, does he have epilepsy? In general, no. Epilepsy is defined as having two or more seizures without a specific cause (idiopathic seizures). So even if your child has more than two seizures and they are caused by head trauma or meningitis (symptomatic seizures), it is not thought of as being epilepsy. It is also not considered to be epilepsy if two or more seizures occur on the same day.
The main types of seizures according to International Classifications are Partial Seizures and Generalized seizures. Seizures that do not fit into these classifications are labeled as being Unclassified Epileptic Seizures.
Generalized seizures include the convulsive, tonic-clonic, or Grand mal, type of seizures which people are most familiar, in which a child falls down and has jerking movements. Other types of generalized seizures include atonic seizures, which cause 'drop attacks', and absence seizures (petit mal). Absence seizures cause a brief loss of awareness and are one of the causes of staring spells. These staring spells are usually brief, lasting only about 10-15 seconds, with a return to normal awareness after the seizure and they may occur several times a day. Absence seizures can be brought on by hyperventilation and they have a characteristic EEG, with a 3-per-second spike and wave pattern.
The other main type of seizures are the partial seizures, which have a focal or local onset (starting in the right leg, for example, in contrast to a generalized seizure, which begins in all parts of the body at the same time). Partial seizures may be simple, in which there is no loss of consciousness, including seizures in which a child jerks one arm or deviates his eye to one side. Children can also have partial complex seizures, which also have a focal onset, but which do involve a loss of consciousness. They are similar to absence seizures in that they also cause staring spells, but with partial complex seizures, the staring spell is usually longer, lasting about 30 seconds to several minutes and the child may be confused after the seizure. In addition to just staring, these children may seem confused during the episode and may wander around.
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Seizures and Epilepsy Internet Resources:
- AAP Practice Parameter: The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses and accepts as its policy the Practice Parameter: The Evaluation of a First Non Febrile Seizure in Children.
- Epilepsy Foundation of America: The EFA Answer Place for parents of children with epilepsy. Includes info about treatment, medications, recognizing the signs of a seizure, managing seizures at school and questions to ask your doctor.
- Epilepsy Support Groups and Organizations: A comprehensive listing of support groups for parents of children with epilepsy and seizures.