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Epilepsy is a central nervous system condition in which clusters of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain misfire and send abnormal electrical signals that cause the body to respond in unusual ways. Neurons normally send electric and chemical signals to muscles, glands and other nerve cells to produce needed thoughts and actions.
When a group of neurons repeatedly misfires all at once, the resulting surge of electrical activity can cause a seizure. A seizure involves different involuntarily actions in the body such as:
Epilepsy is a common condition with the highest incidence of diagnosis occurring in early childhood. More than 450,000 children and adolescents in the United States are living with epilepsy.
In nearly half of all people with epilepsy and seizures, the cause is unknown (idiopathic). In other cases, epilepsy and seizures can be linked to specific causes or other conditions, including:
While many children may experience one seizure during childhood, an epilepsy diagnosis requires two or more unprovoked seizures that occur at least 24 hours apart.
There are different types of seizures, which can be mild to severe and can happen frequently or infrequently.
Seizure types and symptoms include:
Seizures can happen at any time, day or night. They can last for a few seconds or a few minutes. A child may recover quickly after a seizure, or it may take several hours for him or her to recover. Children may experience certain symptoms after a seizure, including:
Many forms of epilepsy require lifelong treatment to control the seizures, but some children do outgrow the seizures. For most children diagnosed with epilepsy, medicines and surgery control and reduce seizures.
Most children with epilepsy lead normal and productive lives. They can participate in the same activities as other children but may need closer supervision, such as not riding a bicycle or swimming without an adult nearby.
Doctors at Riley at IU Health perform the following exams and tests to diagnose epilepsy and seizures:
The goal of epilepsy treatment is to reduce and control the number and frequency of seizures. Medicines work to manage seizures in most children, but about 25 percent of children have epilepsy that is resistant to medicine. These children often respond to surgery and implantable devices.
It is important to find treatments that work to control the seizures to reduce the possible risk of more serious complications. In rare cases, some children with epilepsy may be at risk for sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Researchers believe gene abnormalities that impact epilepsy and heart function may be the cause of SUDEP. Genes tied to specific types of epilepsy have been identified as well as biological links between epilepsy and heart dysfunction. This knowledge is aiding researchers as they look for potential risk factors and new treatments.
View these links to discover support groups and more resources for epilepsy and seizures.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This organization advocates for families living with epilepsy, funds research for new treatments and provides resources and support to patients.
This nonprofit organization raises funds for epilepsy research. The site includes educational information about epilepsy and research updates.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.
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