When functioning normally, your brain uses electrical and chemical signals to create a pattern that represents something meaningful. A seizure is an "electrical storm" in the brain that activates a pattern that doesn’t represent anything meaningful, and that can cause outward manifestations such as shaking, stiffening and loss of consciousness.
Seizures are relatively common in both children and adults and can be triggered by many things including fever, low blood sugar or head injury. Children with other conditions such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome may be at higher risk of having seizures without provocation.
A seizure "without provocation" is a seizure where there is no obvious cause. Epilepsy is a chronic condition where a person has multiple, unprovoked seizures.
Having one seizure does not mean that your child has epilepsy, and not all seizure disorders are epilepsy.
- If your child has had one unprovoked seizure, the risk of having a second unprovoked seizure is about 1 in 3. Your child probably will not have another unprovoked seizure and probably does not have epilepsy.
- However, if your child has a second unprovoked seizure, the risk of a third seizure is now about 2 in 3. Your child probably will have other unprovoked seizures and probably has epilepsy.
If your child has had two or more unprovoked seizures, a doctor may prescribe an anti-seizure medication and refer your child for additional testing for epilepsy.
One person in 26 will develop epilepsy over the course of a lifetime. It most often begins in infancy and childhood. In many cases, epilepsy can be a temporary condition. Most children who are otherwise healthy will outgrow their epilepsy in time depending upon the type of epilepsy and other risk factors and medical conditions.
However, 1 in 3 children with epilepsy do not respond to any combination of traditional anti-seizure medications. These children should be evaluated by a subspecialist (an epileptologist) to see if they are candidates for epilepsy surgery, the ketogenic diet or brain stimulation devices.
More About Epilepsy
- Kids Health: What Is Epilepsy?
- UW Health Comprehensive Epilepsy Program: About Epilepsy
- Health Information: Epilepsy Overview