Saturday, January 31, 2009

What can cause seizures in children?

Seven-year-old Benjamin Lavastida's history with seizures began when he was 18 months old. He had three in one day. They came "fast and furious," said his mother, Kim Lavastida of West Des Moines. At the time, a pediatric neurologist found nothing abnormal; and they were thought to be caused by a high fever.

Yet more seizures followed, and they occurred frequently from when Benjamin was 2 to 4 years old, Lavastida said. He was diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological disorder.
The topic of seizures in children recently has received media attention following the death earlier this month of actor John Travolta's 16-year-old son, Jett, after a seizure.

A seizure is an alteration in awareness, or a convulsion, that takes place when brain cells do not communicate with each other, said Dr. Padmini Palat, a pediatric neurologist with Mercy Children's Center who specializes in care of children with seizure disorders. The alteration results in changes in the electrical activity of the brain.

One percent of all children will have at least one seizure by the age of 14, Palat said. About half of those children will develop epilepsy.

Symptoms of a seizure vary in infants, children and adults. In children, symptoms can include blank staring, excessive chewing motions, confused speech and the body shaking or jerking.

In babies, symptoms include clusters of quick and sudden movements that begin between the ages of 3 months and 2 years, according to the Epilepsy Foundation North/Central Illinois, Iowa & Nebraska. Also, if an infant is sitting, his head will fall forward; if lying down, his knees will be drawn up and his arms and head flex forward.

Most single, brief seizures do not cause long-term problems, but Palat said prolonged seizures can be dangerous and life-threatening.

It is important for parents to contact their child's primary care provider to determine the cause of a seizure and whether more testing or treatment is needed, she said. Tests can include an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which traces the electrical activity of the brain, or an MRI.

The causes of seizures can include head injury, illness or high fever. In some cases, Palat said, a cause is never found.

Doctors tried three different drugs before finding the right combination of two medications to get Benjamin's seizures under control, Lavastida said. "There's nothing definitive. It's trial and error," Lavastida said. "We got them under control right at the age of 5."

In March 2008, after Benjamin had been seizure-free for two years, Palat attempted to wean him off his medication, which resulted in a seizure. Palat said they'll do more tests and try again this spring to decrease his drugs.

Many children stop having seizures as they mature and their brain grows, she said. "With certain types of epilepsy, they may grow out of them. But with certain kinds, they may need to take a medication for the rest of their life."


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