March 1, 2021

What causes epilepsy in children?

About Epilepsy

Knowing what causes epilepsy in children can help you to understand your child’s condition better. Learn about common causes, symptoms and treatment.

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions and it affects around 470,000 children in the USA. Children with epilepsy experience seizures, which is when unusual patterns of electricity in their brain affect their behavior. 

If your child has epilepsy, it can be useful for them and for you to learn more about it. So, what causes epilepsy in children, what are the common symptoms, and how is it treated?

What causes epilepsy in children?

There are many different reasons why a child may start having epileptic seizures. When you take your child to an epilepsy specialist, they will conduct a physical examination, ask you to provide details of their seizures and take your child’s medical history. They may also do an EEG test. 

These examinations may help the specialist to identify what caused the seizures in the first place. Possible causes include:

  • Genetics - sometimes epilepsy is passed down through the family
  • A fever
  • Head injuries
  • Tumors or other lesions
  • Diseases such as meningitis
  • Learn more about epilepsy causes

For more than half of children who have epilepsy, doctors cannot work out exactly why they started having seizures. 

Mother and son learning what causes epilepsy in children together on a computer

Symptoms of epilepsy in children

Epileptic seizures can be put into two groups: focal seizures and generalized seizures.

In a focal seizure the electrical activity happens in just one part of the brain, whereas in a generalized seizure, the electrical activity happens all over the brain at the same time.

Symptoms of focal seizures in children can include:

  • Twitching and jerking which begins on one side of the body
  • Staring into the distance on one side
  • Feeling pins and needles
  • Seeing, hearing and smelling things that are not there

Symptoms of generalized seizures in children can include:

  • Losing consciousness
  • Body going stiff, followed by jerking in the arms and legs
  • Wetting themselves
  • Making unusual sounds or bodily movements

The symptoms of epilepsy in children will vary from one child to the next, so if you are unsure of the causes of your child’s behavior it is worth speaking with their treatment team to learn more.

How to help manage your child’s epilepsy

If your child has been diagnosed with epilepsy, it is important to follow the doctor's instructions for treatment. The healthcare team will usually:

  • Try to control seizures with medication (this works for about two people in three)
  • Suggest following a specific diet such as the ketogenic diet
  • Try treating the seizures with surgery or medical devices

With some kinds of epilepsy such as Benign Rolandic Epilepsy, doctors often choose not to treat the seizures at all because it is not usually necessary

You may also find it useful to record when your child has seizures in Epsy. The app provides a diary where you can log medication and seizures and show this to the doctor, so that they can understand your child’s condition better.

Support for parents and caregivers 

If the child you care for has been diagnosed with epilepsy, it can be really helpful for you and them to learn more about the condition. Our blog provides more information on different aspects of living with epilepsy and can help you understand what causes epilepsy in children in more detail. 

For more support and education, ask your child’s treatment team about epilepsy support groups for parents and children in your area.