What is pediatric epilepsy?

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Iris Rodriguez-Johnson, MD
Pediatrics

The term Seizure disorder and epilepsy are synonymous. They refer to a condition where there are is a tendency for recurrent unprovoked seizures. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures also known as gran mal seizures are those commonly associated with epilepsy and are associated with motor manifestations and loss of consciousness.

There is a tonic phase whereby there is a sustained contraction of the muscles  and the patient drops to the ground. This phase lasts one minute. Then there is  the clonic phase where there is bilateral rhythmic jerking. This phase stops after several minutes and then is followed by a recovery phase which lasts minutes to hours.

According to Steven Weinstein, MD, Director of the Pediatric Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, it is important for parents to first understand epilepsy and the multiple causes for a seizure.

"The study and care of an individual with epilepsy is like looking through a window to the brain," says Dr. Weinstein. "The brain is an electrical organ, it generates electricity. Within that organ there are numerous batteries with positive and negative ends and chemicals on the inside that generate that electricity. Just like Tinker Toys with little motors, those batteries get wired up and form networks and somehow those networks feed different parts of the brain and body.

"Epilepsy occurs when those networks – either one of them or a whole group of them – begin to do the same thing at the same time. This results in a seizure that causes uncontrollable changes in body movements, behavior, awareness or sensation," continues Dr. Weinstein. "As scary as a seizure looks – and parents can only imagine all the bad things that might be going on inside their child's brain – it is about as far away from the truth as can be. It isn't that everything is chaotic in the brain, it's that the networks are firing together. Seizures and epilepsy aren't a disease. Epilepsy is a reflection that there is something different about that person's brain functioning."

Pediatric epilepsy may be related to a temporary condition, such as withdrawal from certain drugs, or abnormal levels of sodium or glucose in the blood. In such cases, repeated seizures may not recur once the underlying problem is corrected. In other cases, an injury to the brain, for example, a stroke, head injury, or infection, can cause brain tissue to be abnormally excitable. In some people, an inherited abnormality affects nerve cells in the brain that leads to seizure.

Continue Learning about Epilepsy & Seizures

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.