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Seizures in Children

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Diagnosing a Seizure in a Child continued...

Some kinds of seizures, such as absence seizures, are especially difficult to catch because they may be mistaken for daydreaming.

"Nobody misses a grand mal (generalized tonic-clonic) seizure," says William R. Turk, MD, chief of the Neurology Division at the Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "You can't help but notice when a person falls to the ground, shakes, and sleeps for three hours." But absence or staring seizures may go unnoticed for years.

Turk says you shouldn't worry if your child gazes open-mouthed at cartoons on TV, or stares out the window in the car. Most kids who appear to be daydreaming really are just daydreaming. Instead, watch for spells that come at inappropriate times, such as when your child is in the middle of speaking or doing something, and suddenly stops.

Other kinds of seizures, such as simple or complex partial seizures, can be mistaken for different conditions, such as migraines, psychological illness, or even drug or alcohol intoxication. Medical tests are an important part of diagnosing seizures. Your child's doctor will certainly do a physical exam and blood tests. The doctor may also order an EEG to check the electrical activity in the brain, or request a brain scan such as an MRI with a specific epilepsy protocol.

The Risks of Seizures in Children

Although they may look painful, seizures don't really cause pain. But they may be frightening for children and the people around them. Simple partial seizures, in which a child may have a sudden, overwhelming sense of terror, are especially frightening. One of the problems with complex partial seizures, for instance, is that people have no control of their actions. They may wind up doing inappropriate or bizarre things that upset people around them. It's also possible for children to injure themselves during a seizure if they fall to the ground or hit other things around them. But the seizures themselves are usually not harmful.

Experts don't fully understand the long-term effects of seizures on the brain. In the past, most scientists thought that seizures did not cause any damage to the brain, attributing brain damage in an individual to an underlying illness. Now, however, some doubts are beginning to emerge.

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