Is my child having a seizure? How to spot seizures in children
Seizures occur in 2-5% of children in the US before the age of 5. Learn about the symptoms.
We commonly associate seizures with epilepsy, but if a child is having a seizure, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the child has epilepsy. There are other reasons why the child could be having a seizure. If a child appears to be having a seizure or experiencing convulsions, don’t panic and try to remain calm.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), febrile seizures occur in 2 to 5 percent of children in the U.S. before age 5.
Febrile seizures are convulsions triggered by a fever that occur in young children. Roughly 40 percent of children who experience one febrile seizure will have another seizure.
Signs of seizure in children
Convulsions are the most common sign of a febrile seizure in children. Other signs of seizure include:
The child loses consciousness for a period of time
- Both arms and legs shake uncontrollably
- Eye rolling
- Stiff limbs or twitching on one side of the body
- Sometimes, a child loses consciousness but does not shake or move
Most febrile seizures only last a few minutes and are accompanied by a fever. Brief seizures (lasting less than 15 minutes) in children do not cause long-term health problems. In children, having a febrile seizure does not mean that the child has epilepsy.
Signs of epilepsy in children
Epilepsy is a complex health condition that could cause a seizure in a child. Epilepsy affects about 1 percent of children and might be caused by an underlying disease, such as an injury or brain development disorder.
In children, the signs of epilepsy can be barely noticeable or seem to appear out of nowhere.
Some common signs of epilepsy include:
- Tremors, convulsions or jerking moments in the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness
- Stiffening of the body during a seizure
- Falling suddenly or falling for no apparent reason
- The child appears confused or in a haze
Other possible signs of epilepsy include staring, not responding to noises or words for brief periods, extreme sleepiness, irritability, head nodding or dropping, period of rapid-eye blinking, vomiting, and changes in vision or speech.
What to do if your child is having a seizure
If your child is having a seizure, remain calm and do not panic. Here’s what you should do if your child appears to be having a seizure:
- To keep the child safe, trying placing them on a soft surface, like a bed
- To prevent choking, lay the child on their side or their stomach
- Check the child’s breathing
- During a seizure, don’t place anything in the child’s mouth
- If necessary, use a soft cloth to clean saliva from the child’s mouth
- Monitor the time when the convulsions start and when the seizure stops
If the seizure does not stop within three to five minutes, or if the child does not regain consciousness, call 911. After the convulsions end, you can give the child a pain-reliever (like ibuprofen) to reduce their fever.
After a child has a seizure, even if the convulsions stop within a few minutes, tell your child’s doctor about the incident. They will likely recommend coming in for a visit within the next day or two.
Diagnosing the cause of a seizure in children
In some rare cases, a seizure in a child could be a sign of a brain tumor, a stroke or brain damage from an illness or injury. Following a seizure incident, a pediatrician will do a health check-up and ask about what might have caused the seizure, such as the child having a recent fever or infection, a possible head injury, what medicines the child is taking or took recently, and the child’s or family’s medical history.
In the instance of a seizure, a pediatrician might also have the child undergo a neurological exam, a blood test, imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan, or other tests to assess what might have caused the seizure.
Treatment at RMHC for pediatric neurological conditions
The team at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) includes several board-certified physicians who specialize in treating routine and complex neurological conditions that occur in children. At RMHC, children of all ages receive the best, most up-to-date care and treatment. We are committed to improving the health and well-being of every child who receives treatment at RMHC.