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Did My Son Have a Seizure?

The signs can be hard to recognize. Here’s what to do if you suspect there’s a problem.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Dear Doctor,

My 8-year-old son, who’s typically animated and outgoing, will sometimes stop what he’s doing, zone out and blink his eyes for a few seconds—and then resume his activity and act like nothing happened. I looked online and found information suggesting this may actually be a type of seizure. Now I’m worried. How do I know if he’s having seizures, and what should I do about it?


“Perplexed Parent”

Dear Perplexed Parent,

Seizures are a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that usually affects how a person appears or acts for a short time. They come in many forms—each with vastly different signs and symptoms—so I completely understand why you’re having trouble getting to the bottom of your son’s issue. Many parents miss the signs of a seizure altogether, or they mistake it for something else. An important differentiator is that a seizure is usually a repetitive incident that comes and goes. Since this is the case for your son, it may in fact be a seizure.

As a first step, I encourage you to log off the computer (too many internet searches may make your anxiety worse) and instead schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. If you can, try to capture a video of the behavior you describe with your phone before your appointment, which can help the doctor see what’s going on.

You should also jot down details of the event soon after it happens. Important things to note include time of day, what your son was doing beforehand, and if he was able to follow any commands you gave during the incident. Pay special attention to his eyes (describe the details of the blinking, were his eyes glassy, etc.), and any other physical changes that occurred, such as mouth foaming or facial twitching. Finally, note if your son had confusion or weakness afterward.

Based on these details, as well as a medical history and physical evaluation, the pediatrician may be able to confidently rule out seizures—or they may recommend setting up an appointment with a neurologist for further evaluation.

As a parent myself, I understand that the idea of taking your child to a neurologist may make you feel a little nervous, but it’s important to stay calm and focused. The doctor will need your help to walk them through the details of your son’s suspected seizure; even seemingly small details can help us in our diagnosis. We will use this information (as well as health/family history and physical/neurological exams) to determine whether or not your child had a seizure—as well as if they have, or are at risk for, epilepsy. Epilepsy is a common chronic disorder, marked by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. It’s diagnosed once your child has had two unprovoked seizures. That is to say, they weren’t brought on by something like a fever, infection, or head trauma.

If your son is diagnosed with epilepsy, it’s important to find a treatment plan that gets his seizures under control. That’s because even if he’s only losing consciousness for a few seconds, it can be highly dangerous when doing certain activities like swimming, bike riding, or crossing the street.

The good news is that for most children (about 70 percent), medication is enough to control seizures; plus many kids eventually outgrow them. And for kids who don’t respond to medication, there are plenty of other innovative treatment options available—and they’re only getting more advanced.

The bottom line? If your son is experiencing seizures, you can feel confident that doctors will find a treatment that’ll work for him, so he can keep being his animated and outgoing self in the safest way possible.

“The good news is that for most children (about 70 percent), medication is enough to control seizures; plus many kids eventually outgrow them.”
Dr. Shefali Karkare, neurologist | Photo credit: The Well

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Published October 23rd, 2018

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