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Epilepsy in children

5-minute read

Learning that your child has epilepsy is distressing. Seizures can be frightening but with treatment, most children with epilepsy will have occasional or no seizures and lead a fairly normal life. Many children will also grow out of epilepsy.

What is epilepsy?

The word epilepsy describes a group of conditions where the person affected is prone to having seizures.

About 1 in 20 children has a seizure by the time they are 15. But only about 1 in 100 has epilepsy.

The seizures of epilepsy are caused by uncontrolled electrical signals in the brain.

What causes epilepsy in children?

In some children with epilepsy, genetics play a part. But other children have epilepsy because of problems with the structure of their brain, or after damage from an infection or scarring from a brain injury, or after the brain has been damaged due to lack of oxygen. Very occasionally, epilepsy can be a sign of a brain tumour.

For many children, there is no obvious cause of the epilepsy.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Epilepsy is diagnosed by a paediatrician or a paediatric neurologist (a doctor who specialises in children’s brains). Parents might be asked to describe their child’s seizures or make video recordings of them, to help the doctor make a diagnosis. Sometimes the doctor might also ask for a child to have a short stay in hospital so their seizures can be recorded.

The child will generally have an electroencephalogram (EEG) – a painless electrical reading of their brain activity. Some children might also have a brain scan (such as a CT scan or an MRI) and blood tests.

What should I do if my child has an epileptic seizure?

If your child has a seizure, stay as calm as possible and:

  • remove any objects they could hurt themselves on
  • if they’re in water, keep their face above the water
  • time the seizure
  • loosen tight clothing
  • place something soft under their head
  • don’t put anything in their mouth
  • roll them onto their side when they stop convulsing, or before if there’s fluid in their mouth
  • reassure them afterwards and make sure they are breathing normally

Don’t restrain them, but gently keep them out of danger. Talk to them and reassure them.

You should call an ambulance if:

  • your child’s seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
  • they are still unconscious or have trouble breathing after the seizure
  • there is food or drink in their mouth
  • the seizure happened in the bath or a pool
  • it is their first seizure
  • they’re unconscious for more than 5 minutes afterwards, or not breathing normally
  • they quicky have another seizure, or they have multiple seizures
  • your child also has an injury
  • your child has diabetes
  • you are going to give them medication to stop the seizure
  • you’re unsure whether they need help

How is epilepsy in children treated?

Your child might be able to avoid seizures by:

  • getting plenty of sleep
  • eating regular meals and exercising
  • avoiding anything that triggers a seizure, such as flashing lights
  • making sure they don’t miss doses of any prescribed medication

Most children are helped by medication, of which there are many different types. Some children need more intensive therapy, such as:

  • surgery to remove brain tissue that is causing seizures
  • vagus nerve stimulation therapy, where a device implanted under the skin stimulates a nerve in the neck
  • a special diet (high in fat, low in protein and carbohydrate), which should only be done under medical supervision

If your child’s seizures start happening more often, let their doctor know.

Alternative therapies shouldn’t be used to replace mainstream therapies. If you’re considering them, talk to your doctor before you start.

Complications or long-term effects of epilepsy

About 7 out of 10 children with childhood epilepsy will stop needing medication after 2 to 5 years of successful treatment without seizures.

Kids with epilepsy can still do most things. It’s good to take some precautions, like not letting your child swim alone and ensuring they wear a helmet when riding their bike.

If your child is having problems at school, tell their doctor. Most children with epilepsy don’t have learning difficulties, but some do. Effective treatment can reduce epilepsy symptoms such as trouble concentrating.

Brain damage or death from epilepsy is uncommon.

What help is available?

You can find information and support at Epilepsy Action Australia and Epilepsy Australia, or by speaking to your doctor. Epilepsy Action Australia has a factsheet about epilepsy for children.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2021

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Need more information?

Epilepsy & seizures in children & teens | Raising Children Network

Epilepsy is when a child has seizures over a long period. If your child is diagnosed with epilepsy, treatment aims to let your child live a normal life.

Read more on website

Epilepsy in children - Better Health Channel

Children with epilepsy generally have seizures that respond well to medication, and they enjoy a normal and active childhood.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthy family relationships - Epilepsy Action Australia

Every family operates as a unit and your child’s epilepsy will likely have an impact on every member of the family

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

Seizures and Epilepsy | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is a seizure? Seizures are caused by a short change in the normal electrical activity in the brain

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

First Aid | Epilepsy Action Australia

Epilepsy Action Australia's Basic Guide for First Aid for Seizures.

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

Ketogenic Diet - Epilepsy Action Australia

The original ketogenic diet is is a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that helps to control seizures in some people with epilepsy

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

Epilepsy and Other Seizures - Synapse

Epilepsy is recurring brief episodes of abnormal electrical activity in the brain leading to uncontrolled convulsions and unconsciousness, or a momentary loss of awareness.

Read more on Synapse - Australia's Brain Injury Organisation website

Medications - Epilepsy Action Australia

An individuals sensitivity to the effects of antiseizure medications varies

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

Epilepsy and Sleep

The Sleep health Foundation Australia

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Parenting with epilepsy

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

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