Cerebral palsy and epilepsy - learn about the link

  • May 24, 2023
  • 3
In this article
A baby being held by her mother

Cerebral palsy and epilepsy are two different conditions that can sometimes occur at the same time. If your child (or a child you care for) has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP), they may also experience cerebral palsy seizures too. 

It’s really helpful to understand more about cerebral palsy and epilepsy, so you can get your child the right care. In this article, you’ll learn about cerebral palsy and seizures, how they’re connected, and what to look out for. 

How are cerebral palsy and epilepsy linked?

Although cerebral palsy and epilepsy are separate conditions, they are closely linked - they’re both caused by problems in the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 42% of children with cerebral palsy also have epilepsy. 

Epilepsy is when someone has two or more unprovoked seizures (meaning the seizures weren’t caused by something external, like dehydration). There are many different kinds of seizure, but they are all caused by surges in electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can cause many different kinds of behavior, including losing awareness, twitching, jerking uncontrollably, making noises, strange sensations, and shaking. 

Understand seizures: Read about different kinds of seizures 

CP happens when a baby’s brain is damaged before, during or shortly after birth. Depending on the kind of brain damage, it might also cause the child to have seizures. 

Cerebral palsy seizures are more likely to happen with certain kinds of CP. One study found that:

  • Children with spastic quadriplegia CP are most likely to also have epilepsy
  • Children with spastic hemiplegia sometimes have epilepsy
  • Children with spastic diplegia are less likely to have epilepsy
  • There isn’t enough information about the link between other kinds of CP and epilepsy

If you’re unsure about any of these words, Cerebral Palsy Guidance provides helpful definitions. 

Because some children’s CP means their movements appear awkward or stiff, epileptic seizures may be missed, since seizure movements might be confused with their CP. But if you think your child is having cerebral palsy seizures, then speak to their doctor - there are simple tests that can be done to diagnose epilepsy in children with CP. 

Treatments for cerebral palsy and seizures

There is currently no ‘cure’ for either cerebral palsy or epilepsy. But there are many kinds of therapy available that can help children with CP to make their seizures less severe or even stop them altogether. 

  • Medication: If a child is having cerebral palsy seizures, their doctor will usually begin treatment with seizure medication. This treatment helps some people to achieve seizure freedom, but for other people the medication doesn’t work, or the side effects are unpleasant. 
  • Diet: Some children with CP may follow certain diets - particularly the fat-based ketogenic diet - which can help reduce or even stop their seizures. 
  • Brain stimulation: Sometimes, doctors may decide to implant devices in the child’s chest or brain that can help regulate electrical activity to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. 

Get the support you need for cerebral palsy and epilepsy

If your child has cerebral palsy and seizures, the first place to start is your child’s doctor. They can give you specific information about your child’s condition and help develop a treatment plan. 

It can also be empowering to learn as much as you can about both conditions. We’ve published many blogs about epilepsy, treatments, syndromes and information about living with seizures. Organizations like the Epilepsy Foundation also provide information and events. 

There are also several national organizations that can provide advice and information about CP too:

With the right support and information, you can feel more confident caring for a child who has cerebral palsy and seizures. 

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