Signs and Causes of Children’s Epilepsy

Causes of epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures. Pediatric epilepsy is epilepsy that occurs in infants and children. Not all seizures mean a child has epilepsy, but all people with epilepsy have had multiple seizures. 

There are many causes of seizures in children, including:

  • High fever
  • Head injuries
  • An infection in the brain or the lining of the brain
  • Lack of oxygen in the brain
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Brain development disorders

Some of the causes of seizures are also causes of epilepsy. For example, severe head injuries are a common cause of epilepsy, as is hydrocephalus. 

Common causes of epilepsy include:

  • Genetics – Genetics may play a role in epilepsy development.
  • Brain changes – About one third of people with epilepsy have brain changes that cause the electrical system in the brain to malfunction. 
  • Structural problems in the brain – Some children are born with structural abnormalities that can cause seizures.
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) – Doctors believe that almost on third of children who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum have seizures, although experts are not sure what the relationship is between autism and epilepsy.
  • Brain infections – Some infections in the brain, like meningitis, can cause epilepsy. 
  • Head injuries – When the brain is damaged during head trauma, it can lead to seizures and epilepsy. 
  • Hydrocephalus – Fluid buildup in and around the brain can cause seizures.
  • Bleeding in the brain – Bleeding in or around the brain can lead to seizures and epilepsy.
  • Maternal drug use – When mothers use drugs during pregnancy, their children may be more prone to developing epilepsy.
  • Congenital conditions – Certain medical conditions can cause epilepsy, including Down syndrome, neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, and Angleman’s syndrome.

Pediatric epilepsy specialists diagnose epilepsy after a child has had more than one seizure that can’t be directly attributed to another cause (like a high fever).

Risks of seizures and epilepsy

There are several factors that put children at greater risk for developing epilepsy, including:

  • Low birth weight
  • Seizures before one month of age
  • Brain abnormalities in infants
  • Lack of oxygen in the brain 
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain infections, like meningitis and encephalitis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Seizures that occur shortly after a head injury
  • A family history of epilepsy
  • Autism spectrum disorder

Common signs and symptoms of epilepsy

Signs and symptoms of epilepsy can vary depending upon the severity of the seizures. Some seizures are obvious and easy to recognize, but others may not be recognizable as seizures to most people because they don’t include the telltale body convulsions and uncontrolled muscle movements many people associate with seizures. 

Grand mal seizures are what most people think about when they picture a seizure. Signs and symptoms of a grand mal seizure include:

  • Loss of consciousness or unresponsiveness
  • Sudden falling
  • Muscle contractions or convulsions
  • Screaming
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe headache

The following are some of the less obvious signs and symptoms of epilepsy:

  • Blackouts, gaps in memory, mumbling, or a lack of response when spoken to
  • Sudden falling, unusual clumsiness, or stumbling
  • Repetitive movements, like nodding the head or blinking the eyes quickly
  • Significant sleepiness and irritability when being awakened from sleep
  • Sudden, unexplained fear or anger
  • Complaints about sensory issues, like things smelling, tasting, sounding, feeling, or looking funny or different
  • Grabbing or flailing movements
  • Sudden onset of stomach pain followed by confusion or sleepiness

Triggers associated with seizures and episodes

Some people who have epilepsy notice triggers or patterns before seizures begin. Learning what your child’s triggers are may help you recognize less obvious seizures or know when a seizure is likely to begin. This can help you prepare yourself and your child for the seizure.

Triggers may be:

  • A specific time of day or night – For example, some seizures may only happen when a child first wakes up.
  • Sleep deprivation or not getting quality sleep
  • Illness or fevers
  • Bright or flashing lights
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes, including menstrual cycles
  • Not eating a balanced diet
  • Low blood sugar
  • Certain foods or drinks, like caffeine or sugar
  • Medications or missing medications

Pediatric epilepsy care at Beaumont

The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at Beaumont Children's offers a range of pediatric epilepsy treatment and monitoring services for infants, children, and teens who have epilepsy or have experienced seizures. Our clinic offers comprehensive seizure evaluations and diagnostic tests for all forms of epilepsy, including MRIs, PET scans, and EEGs.

Doctors Daniel Arndt, M.D. and Pramote Laoprasert, M.D. are pediatric epileptologists who lead the center, which specializes in helping young patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. About one-third of patients who have severe epilepsy will not respond to medication and will need additional treatment.

The multidisciplinary staff at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center is made up of highly trained specialists, including pediatric neurologists, epileptologists, pediatric neuroscience nurses, pediatric EEG technologists, and a nurse coordinator. Using some of the most advanced EEG and imaging technologies available, our team works closely with Beaumont experts in several specialties, including pediatric neurosurgery, ophthalmology, radiology, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center provides resources and guidance for parents and caregivers in a single location, giving them comfort and predictability during a challenging and sometimes unpredictable time.

The Pediatric Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at Beaumont Children’s is accredited by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers as a Level 4 epilepsy center. Level 4 epilepsy centers have the professional expertise and facilities to provide the highest level medical and surgical evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.

Call us today

If your child has had a seizure or has been diagnosed with epilepsy and you’d like to see one of our specialists, we’re here to help. We are located in the Neuroscience Center in Suite N120 on the campus of Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. To schedule an appointment or learn about Beaumont's pediatric epilepsy services, call 248-551-6178.

For a referral to a Beaumont pediatric epilepsy specialist, call 855-480-KIDS (855-480-5437).