The case of paediatric neurologist Dr Andrew Holton who wrongly
diagnosed epilepsy in a third of his young patients made the
condition headline news earlier this year. But how much do we know
about childhood epilepsy and what it means for the 58,000 children
and young people with the condition in the UK?
Epilepsy is a neurological condition in which the
electrical signals sent by the nerves in the brain are interrupted
causing a seizure. Anyone of any age can develop epilepsy and its
causes are often unknown, although it can be caused by a brain
injury or a serious infection such as meningitis.
There are more than 40 different types of seizures and these can be
partial, involving one part of the brain and during which
consciousness is not lost, or general which affects the whole brain
and results in a loss of consciousness.
Some children’s seizures occur in response to triggers such as
stress, over-excitement, light patterns, boredom or lack of sleep.
Epilepsy will not be considered as a cause for seizures until at
least two seizures have been experienced.
About a third of children with epilepsy will recover by the time
they reach adulthood. Other children and young people will find
their seizures change in type and frequency as they get
Diagnosis can be difficult because there is not one
definitive test. A GP will ask lots of questions about what
happened before the seizure, details of the seizure, and family
history. And if epilepsy is suspected, the GP is likely to refer
the child onto a consultant neurologist or epilepsy specialist.
They may do a blood test, monitor brainwave patterns, or order a CT
or MRI brain scan to confirm diagnosis.
The most comment treatment is with anti-epileptic drugs.
These don’t offer a cure but do help to prevent seizures.
However, the drugs can cause unpleasant side effects including
weight gain, acne, facial hair and irritability. In a few severe
cases, surgery may be considered.
Many children and young people with epilepsy deal with
the condition with little problem. But The National Society for
Epilepsy says that, for some, epilepsy can have far-reaching
psychosocial and social consequences as they struggle to cope with
long-term drug treatment and its side effects.
As most children attend mainstream schools, the teacher’s role is
crucial. Epilepsy Action says that, if epilepsy is dealt with
calmly and reassuringly, the child will benefit and their
classmates will have a healthy and accepting attitude to the
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
During a seizure
- Remove any dangerous obstacles near the child
- Cushion the child’s head and remove any tight clothing around
- Don’t restrict movement
- Never put anything in their mouth
After a seizure
- Place the child in the recovery position
- Check that nothing is blocking their airways
- Do all you can to reassure and minimise embarrassment
Do not give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully
- Be aware that bullying can be a problem, and encourage and
build the child’s self-esteem
- Arrange to keep spare clothes at school/nursery if seizures are
a regular occurrence
- Find out as much as possible about a child’s epilepsy. For
- what type of seizures they have
- what particular events might trigger a seizure
- how often medication is taken and what side-effects may be
- whether there is a warning sign (aura) before seizure
- what limitations there are, if any, on activities they can take