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What Is Epilepsy?

People with epilepsy have repeated seizures. A seizure is caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain that can change someone's behavior, movement, or feelings.

There are treatments for many types of epilepsy (EP-eh-lep-see). Some kids will outgrow the condition.

What Are the Different Kinds of Epilepsy?

The different types of epilepsy include:

The kind of epilepsy that somone has depends on the seizure type. A seizure can be:

  • a generalized seizure, which involves both sides of the brain at once
  • a focal seizure, which involves only one side, but can spread to the other side (a secondary generalized seizure)

Often, kids with epilepsy have both generalized seizures and focal seizures.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can be caused by such things as

  • gene changes (also called mutations) 
  • a brain injury or a tumor
  • problems with the way the brain developed before birth
  • abnormal blood vessels
  • bleeding in the brain
  • infections (such as HIV, meningitis, or tuberculosis)

Kids with Down syndrome, autism, and some metabolic disorders also may have epilepsy. Some types of epilepsy run in families.

More than half of epilepsy cases are idiopathic, meaning there's no clear cause. But this is changing as more genetic mutations are found.

How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

If a child has had a seizure, the doctor usually sends them to see a pediatric neurologist (a doctor who treats brain, spine, and nervous system problems). The neurologist will ask questions, do an exam, and order tests to check for epilepsy. The tests, which also can find out the type of epilepsy, may include:

  • blood tests and urine tests (to look for infections or illnesses)
  • EEG to see brain waves/electrical activity in the brain
  • VEEG, or video electroencephalography (EEG with video recording)
  • CAT scan, MRI, and PET/MRI scans to look inside the brain

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

Doctors usually treat epilepsy with medicines. If medicines don't control the seizures, sometimes they recommend a special diet, such as a ketogenic diet,. A ketogenic (or keto) diet is a strict high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and can sometimes reduce seizures.

For hard-to-control seizures, doctors may recommend vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) therapy or surgery.

How Can Parents Help?

Most kids with epilepsy can lead a normal life. To help your child live better with epilepsy, be sure they follow the neurologist’s recommendations about:

  • taking any medicines
  • avoiding triggers (such as excessive stress, lack of sleep, some types of medicines)
  • following any special diets
  • taking precautions while swimming or bathing
  • whether it is OK to drive
  • whether your child should wear a medical ID bracelet
  • getting help with learning or behavior problems, if needed

Be sure that other adults and caregivers (family members, babysitters, teachers, coaches, etc.) know what to do to keep your child safe during a seizure.

If your child has epilepsy, reassure them that they’re not alone. Your doctor and the care team can answer questions and offer support. They also might be able to recommend a local support group. Online organizations can help too, such as: