Epilepsy is neurological condition whereby an affected person will experience seizures due to excessive electrical activity in the brain. There are at least 40 different types of epilepsy, grouped according to the area of the brain they affect, the age of the person when they are first affected and what happens to them during the epileptic fit.
General onset seizures
General onset seizures affect large areas of the brain and can often cause the person affected to loose consciousness. This category includes tonic-clonic seizures where a person may stiffen, start to jerk and loose consciousness. Other types of general onset seizures include absence seizures and myoclonic seizures.
Focal onset seizures
A focal seizure is a partial fit, which affects just one part of the brain and may not present as a full fit. For example, your child may become vacant, pull a funny face, stare, show unusual speech or babble. They may be confused, shake their head, or move parts of their body, arms and legs in an uncoordinated manner.
Click here for more information about the different types of seizure.
Febrile convulsions (not epilepsy)
Convulsions in children under 5 years of age can be caused by a raised temperature in the child rather than by epilepsy. If your child has had febrile convulsions in the past, please include this information in the school entry form so that your public health nurse is aware.
Symptoms of a seizure
There are lots of different symptoms which depend on the type of seizure a person is having. They can include:
- uncontrollable shaking or jerking
- becoming stiff
- loss of awareness
- unusual smells, tastes or sensations
When to get medical help
Dial 999 for an ambulance if somebody:
- is having a seizure for the first time
- has a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes
- has lots of seizures in a row
- has seriously injured themselves
- has breathing difficulties
Click here to find out what to do if somebody has a seizure.
If you think your child or somebody else in the family has had a seizure for the first time it’s important that they see their GP.
Treatment of epilepsy
Not all children who have had an epileptic fit require medication, in particular those who have a few short absences or focal seizures once a month may not require medication. Children who have more frequent seizures (weekly or daily) are likely to benefit from medication. Decisions about medication will be made by your child’s specialist.
Medicines are usually given twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The medicine does not need to be taken into school. However, it’s important that the school knows that your child takes medication; you will need to record it on your child’s medical declaration form.
Some children have prolonged epileptic seizures which last longer than 5 minutes. If your child has this type of seizure then emergency medication will need to be left at school to stop the seizures continuing after 5 minutes.
The school will work with you to create an individual care plan (ICP) for your child. This has to be agreed with your child’s head teacher, a named member of school staff and you. Selected school staff are provided with training in the administration of emergency medication. However, the administration of the emergency medication is at the school’s discretion and it may be necessary for school staff to call an ambulance for assistance.
Triggers for fits
- Not taking medication – this increases the likelihood of having an epileptic seizure (this includes taking medication at different times of the day, too far apart or too close together).
- Taking other medications may alter the way epilepsy medication works, although you can take paracetamol and ibuprofen alongside epilepsy medication.
- Tiredness – can bring about an epileptic seizure, so make sure your child is able to take regular and frequent breaks from activity, study and work.
- Lack of food and drink – a fall in blood sugar may increase the risk of having a seizure, so ensure you make time for regular drinks and snacks during the day.
- Stress – being anxious about school tests, etc. can make your child more likely to have an epileptic seizure.
- Puberty and hormones – growth and metabolic changes can have an impact on the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures. Some doses are calculated based upon body weight. Sudden changes in weight might mean that the dose of epileptic medication is too high or too low.
Diagnosing and managing your child’s epilepsy
An epilepsy diagnosis is based upon a witnesses account of what happens before, during and after your child’s seizures.
- If safe to do so, capture video footage of the seizures that can be shown to your doctor.
- Keep a seizure diary, recording the date, time and length of seizure. Note down what your child did before, during and after the seizure. If there is any change in the frequency of your child’s seizures, make sure you talk to your GP.
- Report any change with medication to your child’s school and their public health nurse.
- Attend all hospital appointments with your child.
- Support your child to manage their triggers.
- Keep school updated with any changes to help them keep your child safe at school.
- Children with epilepsy should not be excluded from school. They should be encouraged and supported to lead a normal life.