Neurological Seizure Disorder

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures when the brain experiences changes in its electrical and chemical activity.

There are three main groups of seizures. They are grouped according to when the movement starts, awareness level and the presence and type of movement.

Classifications include:

  • Generalized onset seizures - affect both sides of your brain at the same time.
  • Focal onset seizures - start in one area or group of cells on one side of your brain.
  • Unknown onset seizures - have an undetermined beginning. This classification is typically used when the seizures’ beginning is unobserved and test results are not yet available. The classification may change as more information is known.

Some types of epilepsy are inherited as part of a family’s health history. Other possible causes include brain injury, trauma or oxygen deprivation at birth. In many cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Epilepsy can affect people of all ages, but it’s most common in young children and older adults. Seizures often have a specific set of symptoms before, during and after the event.

Before a seizure, you child may experience certain warning signs, called an aura, including:

  • Sense of déjà vu
  • Strange tastes and smells
  • Feelings of fear, anxiety or panic
  • Nausea or feeling of stomach rising into throat
  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • Visual symptoms, such as flashing bright lights, spots or wavy lines

During a seizure, your child may experience:

  • Loss of awareness or consciousness
  • Repetitive movements like lip smacking or picking at clothing
  • Drooling or frothing at the mouth
  • Grunting and snorting
  • Staring or blinking
  • Strange tastes, smells and sounds
  • Visual hallucinations or seeing flashing lights
  • Out of body sensation
  • Teeth clenching and tongue biting
  • Rigidity followed by jerking movements (convulsions)
  • Slumping and falling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

After a seizure, your child may experience:

  • Headache
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

Diagnosis begins with a detailed physical examination and health history that outlines the frequency, intensity and potential triggers.

Additional testing may include:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) - uses electrodes placed on the scalp to record brain waves and detecting any abnormalities in electrical activity.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) - uses advanced imaging to provide detailed information about your brain’s metabolic activity to help assess if your brain is functioning normally.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - creates a scan of your brain to determine if there is a structural cause for your seizures.

Although drugs do not cure epilepsy, the condition can often be treated with medications that control your child’s seizures and reduces their impact on his or her life. In some cases, surgery and dietary changes may be needed to address health challenges and improve quality of life.

Our Experts in Care

The epilepsy specialists at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital provide innovative, compassionate care for children with epilepsy.

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Why Choose Penn State Health Children’s Hospital for Care

Innovative, Comprehensive Care

Medication is usually the initial treatment choice if your child experiences multiple seizures. The pediatric epileptologists at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital have extensive knowledge and training in determining which of the many available antiepileptic drugs will produce the best results.

Our specialists may recommend diet therapy as a treatment option. We offer the ketogenic diet and a modified Atkins diet to focus on increasing fats and decreasing carbohydrates. Our experts provide training, education and support to help ensure your success.

Support Group

Pediatric Epilepsy Support Group

Sponsored by Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the Epilepsy Association of Western and Central PA, our epilepsy support group is held...

Sponsored by Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the Epilepsy Association of Western and Central PA, our epilepsy support group is held the first Tuesday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

For more information, please contact Laura Woodward at 717-730-6779.

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