Watching your child have his or her first seizure was probably one of the most frightening moments of your life. Finding out that your child has epilepsy may have been another one. The future may suddenly seem terrifying and uncertain for both your child and your whole family. But as you may already know, the news is not nearly as bad as it sounds. Here are some things to keep in mind if your child has had a seizure:
Most children who have a seizure don't have another one.
Most children who have epilepsy -- which by definition means that they've had more than one seizure -- will outgrow the condition.
Most children with epilepsy are perfectly healthy and normal in other ways.
70% to 80% of children with epilepsy can control the condition completely with medication.
Experts point out that there is no cure for epilepsy and that treating seizures is about controlling them. They also point out that, in children, seizures that are controlled with medication will often go away on their own.
Fifty percent of all patients with newly diagnosed epilepsy will become seizure-free with the first epilepsy drug they try. For the rest, it's try, try again: switching epilepsy medications, adjusting to side effects, and waiting to make sure the new drug works. Others find their seizures are controlled, but they can't tolerate the medication's side effects and need to switch drugs.
Before you ask your doctor if your medication should be switched, make sure you are taking your current medication...
About 400,000 children in the U.S. have epilepsy, and most of them are able to control their seizures and lead normal lives.
That's not to say that dealing with epilepsy is easy, and it will almost certainly change your family. As a parent of a child with epilepsy, you'll have new responsibilities. Obviously, you'll need to make sure that your child is getting good medical care, but there's more to it than that.
So while it may be tough being the parent of a child with epilepsy sometimes, just remember that treatment works, and a child with epilepsy should have a pretty normal life with few limitations. Epilepsy is not nearly as scary as it sounds.
Epilepsy isn't a single disease. Instead, it's a blanket term: A person who has epilepsy has seizures, but the cause and the type of those seizures can be very different. Experts point to prostate and breast cancer as an analogy. Both are cancers, but the causes, development, and treatment of those conditions are not the same. There are many different types of epilepsy that may require different kinds of treatments.
Likewise, the impact of epilepsy is a lot more complicated than the results of the medical condition. Experts say that treating epilepsy is more than just treating seizures. With epilepsy, there are psychological and cognitive effects that need to be dealt with, along with the impact on the entire family. But the first thing that you and your doctor must do is stop the seizures, usually with medication. Fortunately, there are many effective epilepsy drugs available.
Solomon L. Moshe, MD. Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Pediatrics, Director of Clinical Neurophysiology and Child Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York; past president of the American Epilepsy Society.
William R. Turk, MD. Division Chief, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neurology, The Nemours Children's Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida.
Freeman, J. et al. Seizures and Epilepsy in Childhood: A Guide. 3rd ed. 2002.
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities.
American Epilepsy Society.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.