What Can Cause a Seizure in a Child?

11 Jan 2022
Get insights on what can cause a seizure in a child, from common triggers to effective treatment options and preventive measures.

Understanding Seizures in Children

When it comes to a child's health, the sudden onset of a seizure can be deeply unsettling for parents. A fundamental understanding of what a seizure is and the various types that exist can help parents navigate this situation with more confidence.

Definition and Basic Concepts

A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It can cause changes in behavior, movements, feelings, and levels of consciousness. High fever can cause seizures in young children, a condition known as febrile seizures. Febrile seizures are most common in children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years.

Seizures in children can be caused by various factors, such as a high fever, high or low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or a brain concussion. In other instances, an imbalance of nerve-signaling brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), brain tumor, stroke, or brain damage from illness or injury can trigger a seizure. When a child experiences 2 or more seizures with no known cause, this is diagnosed as epilepsy.

Types of Seizures

Seizures are classified into two main categories based on which part of the brain is affected and what happens during the seizure. These categories, defined by Johns Hopkins Medicine, are:

  1. Focal (partial) seizures: These seizures occur when seizure activity is limited to a part of one brain hemisphere. There are two types of focal seizures:
  2. Focal Aware Seizures: In this type, the child is aware of their surroundings during the seizure.
  3. Focal Impaired Awareness Seizures: In this variety, the child loses consciousness or awareness during the seizure.
  4. Generalized Seizures: These seizures involve both sides of the brain from the start of the seizure. They can cause loss of consciousness, falls, or massive muscle spasms. Some of the common types of generalized seizures include:
  5. Absence seizures: These are brief seizures that involve staring spells.
  6. Tonic-clonic seizures: Also known as grand mal seizures, they involve a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

Understanding the type of seizure a child is experiencing can aid in determining the best course of treatment and managing the child's condition more effectively.

Common Causes of Seizures

Understanding what can cause a seizure in a child is crucial for parents. Seizures can result from a variety of factors, including genetic predispositions, infections, head trauma, and exposure to toxic substances.

Genetic Factors and Seizures

Genetics may play a significant role in children experiencing seizures. In some cases, children may have inherited a tendency to have seizures Mayo Clinic. Developmental conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders can also contribute to the risk of seizures in children UpToDate.

Infections and Seizures

Infections in the brain can lead to seizures in children. Conditions such as meningitis and encephalitis, which are infections of the brain, can trigger seizures Mayo Clinic. High body temperatures or fevers can also trigger seizures in children, even without any signs of infection. It is crucial for parents to monitor their child’s temperature, especially during illnesses, to help prevent febrile seizures Epilepsy Foundation.

Head Trauma and Seizures

Brain injuries, such as those resulting from head trauma, can increase the risk of seizures in children. Seizures can develop immediately after the injury, or they may occur years later Mayo Clinic.

Exposure to Toxic Substances

Exposure to toxic substances, such as lead and carbon monoxide, can cause seizures in children Mayo Clinic. Certain medications can lower the seizure threshold in children, making them more prone to seizures, and should be avoided if they have epilepsy Ochsner Health. Additionally, certain foods, drinks, and chemicals can act as triggers for seizures in children, such as artificial colors, preservatives, and flavor enhancers Epilepsy Foundation.

Parents should always consult with health professionals for appropriate guidance and management of seizures in their children. By identifying potential causes and triggers, parents can make informed decisions and take proactive steps to manage their child's seizures.

Triggers for Seizures in Children

Identifying triggers for seizures in children is an essential step in managing and preventing the occurrence of seizure episodes. Triggers can vary greatly among individuals, and understanding these can help in creating an effective seizure action plan. This section will discuss environmental, behavioral, psychological, and dietary triggers.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental factors can play a significant role in triggering seizures in children. These triggers are often sensory stimuli that can provoke a seizure in susceptible individuals. Examples include flashing lights, exposure to specific visual patterns such as stripes or checkerboard patterns, and even hot weather.

Furthermore, certain reflex epilepsies in children can be activated by activities like watching television, drawing, or playing video games [3]. Other situations like excessive screen time or watching movies with intense visual effects can also trigger seizures.

High body temperatures or fevers can be a trigger for seizures in children, even without any signs of infection. This is often seen in febrile seizures, which are common in young children.

Behavioral and Psychological Triggers

Behavioral and psychological factors can also contribute to triggering seizures in children. Common triggers include stress, excitement, anxiety, and sensory overload [4].

Lack of sleep and sleep deprivation is another common trigger for seizures in children. Ensuring that children have regular sleep patterns and adequate sleep can help in managing and reducing the risk of seizures.

Dietary Triggers

Dietary factors can also play a role in triggering seizures in children. Certain foods, drinks, and chemicals, such as artificial colors, preservatives, and flavor enhancers, can act as triggers for seizures [4].

In addition, certain conditions like hypoglycemia, whereby low blood sugar levels can occur due to prolonged periods without eating, can also trigger seizures in children [3].

Understanding and identifying these triggers can be crucial in managing seizures in children. It is advised to maintain a seizure diary to track and recognize patterns with the occurrence of seizures. This can help in adjusting lifestyle and dietary choices to reduce the risk of future seizures. Always consult with a healthcare professional for a personalized plan in managing and preventing seizures in children.

Seizures and Epilepsy

Childhood seizures can be a symptom of various conditions, including epilepsy, a common disorder of the nervous system that can affect children of all races and ethnic backgrounds [2].

Understanding Epilepsy in Children

Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent seizures that occur without a known cause. If a child experiences two or more seizures without a clear trigger, such as a high fever, high or low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or a brain concussion, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy.

There are different types of seizures associated with epilepsy, including focal (partial) seizures, which occur in one or more areas of one side of the brain, and generalized seizures, which involve both sides of the brain [2].

Epilepsy Treatment Options

Treatment for epilepsy aims to control, stop, or reduce the frequency of seizures. Medication is the most common form of treatment, with various types available depending on the child's age, the type of seizure, potential side effects, cost, and ease of use. Medications can come in different forms, such as capsules, tablets, sprinkles, or syrups, and can be taken orally or administered rectally or through the nose.

Other treatment options include the ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that can help control seizures in some children, and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), where a device is implanted under the skin to send electrical signals to the brain via the vagus nerve. In severe cases where seizures are localized to one area of the brain and are not controlled by medication, surgery may be considered [2].

Prevention and Management of Seizures

Understanding what can cause a seizure in a child is the first step towards effective prevention and management of seizures. In this section, we will discuss strategies for identifying and avoiding seizure triggers, as well as the importance of having a seizure action plan.

Identifying and Avoiding Triggers

Various factors can trigger seizures in children, including environmental, behavioral, and dietary elements. Recognizing these triggers can be a crucial part of managing a child's seizures.

Here are some common triggers that can cause seizures in children:

  • Flashing lights, bright lights, certain visual patterns, such as stripes or checkerboard patterns (epilepsy.com)
  • Lack of sleep, stress, hot weather (epilepsy.com)
  • Specific activities, such as watching television, drawing, playing video games (epilepsy.com)
  • Certain foods and drinks, especially those containing artificial colors, preservatives, and flavor enhancers (Epilepsy Foundation)
  • Psychological factors, such as anxiety, frustration, and sensory overload (Epilepsy Foundation)
  • High body temperatures or fevers, even without any signs of infection (Epilepsy Foundation)

Identifying these triggers and making efforts to avoid them can significantly help in managing a child's seizures. This might involve making changes to the child's environment, behavior, or diet.

Importance of a Seizure Action Plan

Having a seizure action plan is crucial for managing seizures in children. This plan should include detailed instructions on what to do when a seizure occurs, including the necessary steps to ensure the child's safety and when to seek medical help.

A seizure action plan can also help teachers, caregivers, and other family members understand how to respond in the event of a seizure, reducing panic and confusion. This plan should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure its effectiveness.

In conclusion, understanding what can cause a seizure in a child allows parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers to take proactive steps in managing and preventing seizures. By identifying and avoiding triggers and creating a comprehensive seizure action plan, it's possible to help children with seizures lead a normal and healthy life.

References

[1]: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/epilepsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20350093

[2]: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/epilepsy/seizures-and-epilepsy-in-children/

[3]: https://www.epilepsy.com/what-is-epilepsy/syndromes/reflex-epilepsies

[4]: https://epilepsyfoundation.org.au/managing-epilepsy/children-and-epilepsy/seizure-triggers-in-children/

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