Epilepsy has no favorites when it comes to age groups. And when it affects children, it becomes a sad affair as it disrupts normal childhood in an estimated 10.5 million children worldwide. The good news is that about 70% of children with epilepsy eventually outgrow it with remission being more likely if there are no underlying neurological defects.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition involving the brain and nervous system. When the electrical signals between the nerve cells in the brain and the body’s functions are disrupted, the child has an epileptic seizure or ‘fit’. This misfiring of the brain signals results in abnormal synchronous excitement leading to uncontrollable seizures.
The severity of this disorder depends on how much of the brain is involved. Brain injury incurred due to trauma or difficult or premature birthing can all lead to a fall in oxygen levels to the brain, resulting in a tendency towards epilepsy. One form of seizures called ‘absence seizures’ renders the patient unresponsive for a few seconds or minutes while other forms may cause falling and convulsions. Then there are the one-time occurrences, such as febrile seizures which aren’t classic epilepsy. Abnormal brain development due to genetics or maternal exposure to toxins or trauma can also lead to pediatric epilepsy.
In a few cases, epilepsy tends to last through life and results in intellectual disabilities. Learning problems, depression, anxiety, autism as well as ADHD are some of the behavioral and psychiatric disorders experienced by these children. The symptoms include jerking movements, repetitive movements or an unusual taste in the mouth, a weird smell or a roiling stomach. In some seizures, the child may know what’s happening, in others, the child may be unconscious and have no memory. Some seizures occur while the child is sleeping and leaves the child tired and confused the next day.
There are usually certain triggers that set off seizures such as stress, excitement, boredom, lack of sleep or missed medications; parents need to keep a vigilant eye out for potential triggers and avoid them accordingly.
If the child has had more than one seizure, the pediatrician may consider classifying it as epilepsy after taking a detailed history of the episodes and a few tests.
Conventional treatment of epilepsy with anticonvulsant medications is usually successful in about 70% of children. But medicating a small child isn’t always easy as most of the drugs coming in tablet forms. A ketogenic diet that’s low on carbohydrates and high in fats is usually helpful in two-thirds of cases and in very rare cases a hemisherectomy is conducted where part of one hemisphere of the brain is removed.
Whatever the case, every child with epilepsy deserves a shot at fulfilling their dreams and their seizures shouldn’t come in the way of achieving it…