Understanding Epilepsy

Witnessing a seizure can be a frightening experience for people of all ages. If your child knows the signs of an epileptic seizure and what do if a friend or loved one experiences one, he or she could potentially save a life.

Most of the time, people begin having seizures between the ages of 5 and 20. It’s neither contagious nor a sign of low intelligence or mental illness.

Epilepsy affects about 300,000 American children younger than age 15.  Many children may eventually grow out of their seizures, but some may need to control seizures throughout their lives. Seizures occur when a sudden surge of electric activity affects part or all of the brain. This abnormal signal can cause periods of confusion, loss of consciousness, spasms or convulsions.

Seizures often occur without warning but can be preceded by an aura—a particular taste, a strange sensation, or an upset stomach. Although rare, some seizures may be triggered by flashing lights, such as playing video games, or not getting enough sleep.

Here to Help

If your preteen witnesses someone having an epileptic seizure, he or she should let an adult know or call 911 if adults are not present. Most seizures end quickly, but the following steps may improve the sufferer’s safety:

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Roll the person onto his or her side to prevent choking.
  3. Remove items near the person that might cause injury. Further minimize injury to the person by placing a pillow under the sufferer’s head.
  4. Give the person space, refraining from shaking or restraining him or her.
  5. Wait with the person until he or she wakes up.
  6. Never place anything into the mouth of someone having a seizure.

Most people do not remember what happened during the seizure. The sufferer might be confused or tired after a seizure and should be allowed to rest or sleep if needed.

People with epilepsy may be able to control their conditions with medication, diet and/or surgery. Some young people with epilepsy grow out of seizures, while others face a lifelong commitment to managing the condition.

Either way, remind your child that epilepsy will not stand in the way of friendships or the ability to pursue dreams. Epilepsy didn’t stop Socrates, Sir Isaac Newton or Theodore Roosevelt, and it won’t stop him or her.

For more information about pediatric services at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent, including pediatric neurology, visit peytonmanning.stvincent.org.

Reviewed by Kristin Miller, N.P., pediatric neurology, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent.

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