Living With Epilepsy | Hailey's Epilepsy Surgery Story
Children and Epilepsy
Epilepsy, a brain disorder that causes seizures, usually affects children. But some children will outgrow the condition.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Epilepsy is a disorder that causes abnormal electrical impulses in the brain, resulting in seizures. About 125,000 new cases of epilepsy are diagnosed every year, and about half of these are in children. More than 300,000 children in the United States have epilepsy, which can drastically impact their childhood.
Does Epilepsy Last a Lifetime?
Though epilepsy frequently strikes young people — half of all cases start before age 25, and most of those during childhood — epilepsy is often outgrown.
As many as 80 percent of children with epilepsy who don't have other health conditions will outgrow the condition and no longer suffer any seizures past a certain age. These children may not need to take medications indefinitely to prevent seizures, once seizures stop being a problem.
Rolandic epilepsy syndrome is the type of epilepsy that occurs most frequently in childhood, accounting for about 25 percent of all childhood cases. Epileptic seizures from this condition are often minor, respond well to treatment, and typically go away by the time the child is about 6 years old.
Treatment Options for Children With Epilepsy
The most common treatment for epilepsy at any age is to prevent seizures with anticonvulsant (also called anti-epileptic) medications.
But these medications might not always work in preventing seizures in young children. When medications fail, a child may be put on a ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet boosts fat intake and lowers carbohydrate intake, and can be very successful in reducing seizures for some children.
Surgery for Children With Epilepsy
Surgery is also an option for some children whose seizures can't be controlled with medication or diet. There are several types of epilepsy surgery that may be performed in children, depending on how severe the seizures are and in what part of the brain the seizures occur.
Epilepsy surgery removes a portion of the brain, or blocks activity in a section of the brain, to prevent seizures from spreading. These are major surgeries that, depending on the extent, are not without side effects.
Vagus nerve stimulation is another way to treat childhood epilepsy. This treatment involves implantation of a small device inside the chest. The device sends electricity to the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck into the brain, to prevent seizures.
Talking To Your Child About Epilepsy
Seizures can be a frightening experience for children, so it's important to help your child understand what is going on. No matter your child's age, be honest, clear, and direct; but tailor the information and language that you use to be appropriate for your child's age.
Explain to your child that something happens inside his or her brain to cause the seizure, and explain that it is a condition that many children have. For young children, try using pictures to illustrate what's going on inside their brain.
Encourage your child to accept his condition, and not to feel ashamed, afraid, or embarrassed about having seizures. Make sure your child understands that there is nothing she did to cause her epilepsy. This is particularly important for young children, who may think that their behavior is responsible.
Tell your child that he can take medication to try to prevent having seizures, but it may not always work. You should always be very clear with older children that it’s important to take their medication consistently to prevent seizures.
Epilepsy most directly affects the child, but it truly impacts the whole family. Make sure that siblings have a good understanding of epilepsy and how they can help, and reassure them that they don't have to be concerned about "catching" the condition.
But with the right treatment, kids with epilepsy can go on to have a fun and happy childhood.
Video: Behavioral Health in Children with Epilepsy
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