Seizures are common in children with cerebral palsy, but it’s important to note that not all children will experience them, and the ones that do may have different types that vary in severity. As a parent or caregiver, you’ll need to learn how to recognize the signs that a seizure is approaching and how to handle it once it begins.
What Are Seizures?
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a seizure is defined as an electrical surge to the brain that affects how someone acts for a short period of time. The surge of electrical activity is caused by chemical changes in nerve cells that cause the body to convulse and lose consciousness.
Epilepsy is often the main reason for a child having seizures, but anyone is susceptible to having a seizure, at any time and at any age, regardless of health. Seizures become diagnosed as epilepsy when a child has more two or more unwarranted seizures.
Seizures are typically triggered when the electrical activity in the brain misfires somehow, which can be caused for numerous reasons, including:
- Brain damage
- Head injuries
- Reaction to certain medications
- Dehydration or electrolyte imbalance
- High fever
- Low blood sugar
- Genetic factors
Cerebral Palsy and Seizures
Children with cerebral are likely to have at least one seizure or more during their lifetime. In many instances, children with cerebral palsy will experience both generalized seizures and partial seizures. Generalized seizures affect the entire brain, whereas partial seizures affect one side of the brain.
About Generalized Seizures
Generalized seizures, considered more dangerous than partial seizures, have numerous different types. The most common type and most severe type of a generalized seizure is the tonic-clonic seizure. When a child experiences a tonic-clonic seizure, he/she may have violent body shakes, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. They also may make loud noises which can be extremely unsettling and scary to parents or caregivers who witness it.
Tonic-clonic seizures usually subside within a few minutes, but children may experience incontinence and cuts inside their cheek or on their tongue from biting down during the seizure. The child’s face and lips may also appear pale and/or blue. Headaches and throwing up may also follow, and recovery time can range from a few minutes to a few hours.
Absence seizures are another type of generalized seizures. These types of seizures are extremely sudden and generally last around 20 seconds or less.
When a child is having an absence seizure (also known as a petit mal seizure), they will have a blank stare with their eyes looking upwards. Sometimes the eyes and eyelids will jerk during the seizure. The child will appear unresponsive but as soon as it’s over, they will regain full consciousness
Other symptoms of an absence seizure include pale skin, slowed speech (afterward), weak hand grip, and walking in a transfixed type state after the seizure ends. Absence seizures can begin in early childhood or during the early teen years but usually go away once the child is 18.
Unfortunately, absence seizures can happen numerous times in one day, and although they aren’t considered as dangerous as tonic-clonic seizures, they can greatly impact the child’s ability to concentrate.
The Myoclonic seizure is another type of generalized seizure marked by the arms, torso, legs, or face jerking involuntarily. This types of seizure seem to happen out of nowhere with no prior warning but usually subsides within seconds. A foot or only one side of the body is sometimes involved.
Atonic seizures occur when muscle tone is temporarily lost, usually for a minute or less. In most instances, the child’s head will drop down and posture is gone, making the child collapsed. For children who experience atonic seizures, headgear to protect their heads when falling is necessary as these seizures can happen numerous times a day.
Since partial seizures only involve one side of the brain, they are not as dangerous as general seizures, but it’s still crucial to understand how to protect your child when these types of seizures occur.
Partial seizures are more common in people with epilepsy, and the symptoms depend on what part of the brain is conducting the electrical activity. In general, common symptoms include:
- Auditory hallucinations
- Sensory problems
- Unorganized behavior
- Uncontrollable body movements
Brain Damage and Seizures
For children with cerebral palsy, brain damage is usually what causes seizures. Brain injuries most commonly happen during labor and delivery when the infant is deprived of oxygen too long or injured with birth-assisting tools or too much medication.
When brain injuries occur, seizures are likely to be the result, and the type of seizure will depend upon the location of the brain injury. If a neonatal stroke happened during the birthing period, the risk of developing seizures heightens significantly.
Seizures after a brain injury may start in early infancy but may be hard to detect as infants have the tendency to make unexpected movements. It’s important to work with your child’s physician in order to look for the signs of seizures so you can help your baby be safe when they occur.
Treatment for Seizures
There is no cure for seizures, but certain medications and diet plans have both proven to help curb the frequency of seizures and control the severity in many children.
Anticonvulsant medications are the most common type of treatment for children with cerebral palsy. Along with reducing the frequency of seizures, anticonvulsant drugs also help children with mood swings and outbursts.
Diet also plays a large part in helping control the frequency of seizures. Specifically, the Ketogenic diet, which is low in carbs and high in fat, is often recommended by pediatricians. Many scientists have indicated that the Ketogenic diet helps modify children’s metabolism, which helps to increase ketone bodies. When ketone bodies are increased, the frequency of seizures are typically reduced.
If medications and diet fail to help, a last resort in some cases is surgery. Although surgery is generally done if other treatments fail, Johns Hopkins hospital states that surgery for seizures, especially for children with epilepsy, should be considered right away if early trials of anticonvulsant medications do not work.
The type of surgery will depend on what kind of seizures the child has and the severity. Surgeries for cerebral palsy include:
- Focal Resection: A portion of the brain is removed and subdural electrodes are implanted to help control the seizures
- Hemispherectomy: Almost an entire side of the brain is removed in order to disable the portion of the brain that’s causing the seizures. This is the least common type of surgery.
- Corpus Callosotomy: The corpus callosum in the brain is cut in order to reduce generalized seizures. No portion of the brain is removed with this type of surgery.