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Pediatric Epilepsy

Children's Health offers care from some of the nation’s top experts in pediatric epilepsy. We provide the most advanced epilepsy procedures and therapies available. The nationally recognized epilepsy centers at our Dallas and Plano locations mean that you can expect the highest quality of care for your child.

What is Pediatric Epilepsy?

Children with epilepsy have seizures (quick, uncontrollable disturbances in the brain). A child with epilepsy has a high risk for recurring seizures. Neurons in the brain send out electrical impulses to communicate with each other and with parts of the body. These electrical impulses control everything in the body, like movement and your senses. When too many neurons send out impulses at the same time, the brain can get overloaded. This can cause a seizure.

Epilepsy is more common in young children between the ages of 1 and 5.

What are the different types of Pediatric Epilepsy?

There are three main types of epilepsy:

Epilepsy of unknown cause

We don’t know what causes epilepsy in 50% of children.

Genetic epilepsy

Some epilepsies are genetic, which means that a child has one or more variants on their genes that predisposes them to having seizures. In some cases, a doctor may be able to identify the gene variant(s) through genetic testing, if they feel this information will be helpful in guiding treatment.

Structural epilepsy

This means something in the brain’s structure is causing seizures. This could be the result of a brain injury, including:

  • Hypoxic injury (restricted oxygen to the brain)
  • Tumor
  • Dysplasia (part of the brain not developing correctly)
  • Serious head injury

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Epilepsy?

Repeated seizures are the symptom most closely associated with epilepsy. Seizures can cause abnormal movements, changes in behavior, loss of consciousness or loss of awareness. Most seizures stop within a minute or two. Some children might have only a few seizures in their whole lives, while other children could have hundreds of seizures a day.

It is not uncommon for children to have seizures due to a fever. This might not indicate that they have epilepsy. When a child has a seizure for the first time, they should either be taken to the emergency room or a pediatrician called if the seizure stops quickly.

Children with epilepsy may also have staring spells (where they don’t respond to their name) or episodes of confusion or unresponsiveness. If you see this in your child, take them to your pediatrician. They will decide if your child should see a neurologist.

How is Pediatric Epilepsy diagnosed?

If your child is having repeated seizures, your pediatrician or a doctor in the Emergency Department will refer you to a neurologist. A neurologist is a specialist who diagnoses and treats epilepsy and other issues that affect a child’s brain.

A neurologist will give your child a detailed physical and neurological exam and ask you about their past medical history, your family’s medical history, and about what you have noticed about your child’s behavior and their seizures.

They might recommend testing. The tests can include:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG), which can determine where in the brain the seizures are coming from. An EEG is performed by placing electrodes on the scalp and recording the brain’s electrical activity.
  • MRI, which takes a detailed image that can detect changes in your child's brain and may identify the cause of the epilepsy.
  • Genetic testing, to detect changes in your child's DNA, which may identify a specific type of epilepsy and help guide treatment and long-term prognosis.

What causes Pediatric Epilepsy?

Unfortunately, we don’t know what causes epilepsy in about half of children. In the other half of children with epilepsy, causes can include:

  • A prolonged seizure with fever
  • A serious head injury that results in brain damage
  • Genetic factors
  • Lack of oxygen during or following birth
  • Problems with brain development before birth
  • Stroke
  • The after-effects of severe brain infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Tumors

What can trigger a seizure?

Even when a child's epilepsy is under control, they might still experience a seizure triggered by:

  • Missing medication doses
  • Not enough sleep
  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Flashing lights from video games or strobe lights (this only affects patients with photosensitive epilepsy)

How is Pediatric Epilepsy treated?

There are many ways to treat epilepsy. You and your doctor will talk about the best way to treat your child. Here are some of the treatment options:

  • Anti-seizure medications are the most common way to treat epilepsy. These medications can come in a liquid that your child can drink or a pill that your child can swallow. These medications must be taken every day, as prescribed, to prevent seizures.
  • Ketogenic diet may be prescribed for children who don’t respond well to medications. You and your child will work with one of our nutritionists to learn more about this high-fat, low-carb diet.
  • Vagus nerve stimulator is a medical device placed under the skin on the left side of the chest with a wire connecting to their vagus nerve (a cranial nerve that runs from the brainstem to the chest and abdomen). This device sends tiny electrical impulses, going through the vagus nerve to the brain that can help control the epilepsy and decrease the number of seizures.
  • Resective surgery is an option for seizures that start in a specific place in your child’s brain. During surgery, the part of the brain where the seizures begin is removed. The goal of this type of surgery (called a lesionectomy) is to reduce the number of seizures your child has. In some cases, this surgery may stop all your child’s seizures.
  • Corpus callosotomy surgery may be used for children who are frequently injured from falling during their seizures. A doctor might recommend this surgery if anti-seizure medications haven’t worked. This surgery focuses on the corpus callosum, the big bundle of nerves that carries messages between the two halves of the brain (the brain’s left and right hemispheres). A surgeon removes some or all of this bundle of nerves to prevent the seizure from spreading from one hemisphere to the other. This surgery may help your child’s seizures be less severe.

Pediatric Epilepsy Doctors and Providers

With nationally recognized epilepsy centers at our Dallas and Plano locations, Children’s Health℠ offers care from expert neurologists who can help find the right treatment plan for your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can epilepsy in children be cured?

    Not every type of epilepsy can be cured. However, there are some types of epilepsy that children grow out of. Also, in some cases, resective surgery can stop all seizures, which can be thought of as a cure.

  • What are the warning signs of epilepsy?

    The only warning sign of epilepsy is repeated seizures.

  • Can epilepsy lead to mental illness?

    As a result of the epilepsy or a side effect of the seizure treatment, some children might experience a mental health issue, such as ADHD, depression or anxiety.