Epilepsy and Your Child

Epilepsy is another term for seizure disorder. It is a common disorder that affects up to 3 million Americans of all ages, races and walks of life.

Every year, about 55,000 children under 18 are diagnosed with epilepsy. Many of these children will respond well to treatment, and live active lives with well-controlled seizures.

When children are diagnosed with epilepsy, parents often have questions about treating epilepsy and responding to seizures. Common questions may also include:

What causes epilepsy?
What triggers a seizure?
How do I keep my child safe?
Can my child participate in sports?

What causes epilepsy?

There are many different possible causes for seizures, but oftentimes there is no known cause.

Possible causes for seizures and epilepsy can include certain brain abnormalities, such as:

  • A problem with brain development before birth
  • Brain infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Complications during or just after birth
  • Genetic causes with a family history of seizures
  • Genetic causes without a family history of seizures
  • Damage from a head injury or tumor
  • Other diseases or conditions

What triggers a seizure?

Triggers are different from causes of epilepsy. Triggers are possible risk factors that increase the chance that a seizure may occur.

Common seizure triggers include:

  • Fever or illness
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Missed doses of seizure medications
  • Other medications or herbal supplements that may interact with seizure medications
  • Exposure to bright or flashing lights
  • Hyperventilation
  • Menstrual periods
  • Exposure to drugs or alcohol
  • Stress

How do I keep my child safe?

Here are a few recommended safety precautions you can take:

  • Develop a “seizure action plan” with clear instructions for your child’s caregivers, teachers and coaches.
  • Have a medication routine to help avoid missed doses of medication.
  • Use a pill box to organize the weekly medication doses.
  • Avoid common seizure triggers.
  • Go to bed early to ensure that your child is well rested.
  • Encourage consistent sleep patterns.
  • Have your child wear a medical ID bracelet.
  • Consult with your doctor before giving your child other drugs, even over-the-counter medications.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Swim only in pools with a lifeguard present, and notify the lifeguard that your child has epilepsy and may need some additional attention. Avoid swimming in open water, such as lakes or the ocean.
  • Make sure your child always wears a helmet during sports activities, and wears a lifejacket during boating or water activities.
  • Avoid heights, including playground toys that are higher than 3 feet from the ground.

Can my child participate in sports?

YES! At the Swedish Pediatric Neuroscience Center our goal is to improve seizure control so your children can safely participate in normal daily activities and sports.

Here are a few important safety guidelines when participating in sports:

  • Have a seizure safety plan in place!
  • Establish communication with coaches and support staff and familiarize them with the seizure safety plan.
  • Avoid contact sports that may increase the risk for head injuries.
  • Helmets, Helmets, Helmets. Whether snowboarding, skateboarding or riding bikes, helmets are the most effective way to protect children from head injuries.
  • Make sure your child only swims in pools with a lifeguard present or with an adult companion.
  • Make sure that your child gets additional sleep each night when engaged in sports activities.
  • Make sure your child stays well hydrated.

Knowing the proper procedures for responding to seizures is the best way to keep your child safe.