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Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.

Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain which can temporarily disrupt the way messages are sent between brain cells. This can cause changes in a person's awareness, behaviour, emotions, sensations and/or motor functions. 

The condition usually starts in childhood, or in people aged over 60.

Not all seizures are due to epilepsy (which is a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain). One in twenty people will have a non-epileptic seizure at some time.

Symptoms of epilepsy

The symptoms of a seizure can vary, depending on which part of the brain is involved.

Symptoms can include:

  • uncontrollable jerking and shaking, called a 'fit'
  • losing awareness and staring blankly into space
  • becoming stiff
  • strange sensations, like a 'rising/ feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs
  • collapsing

Many children have a seizure with a temperature. This is called a febrile convulsion. These seizures are usually harmless and almost all children make a complete recovery afterwards.

If a child’s seizure lasts more than 5 minutes this can lead to ‘status epilepticus’. This can be very hard to control and is more likely to have a longer term impact on their development.

If your child has a seizure

There are some things you can do to help if your child has a seizure:

  • Try and ease them to the floor, turning them gently onto their side
  • Take off glasses and loosen a tie or anything around the neck like a lanyard
  • Clear the area around them and put something soft under their head
  • Time the seizure and call an ambulance if it is a first seizure or it is going on for longer than 5 minutes

It is important that you do not:

  • Hold or move them
  • Put anything in their mouth
  • Give any food or drink if they are not fully alert
  • Do not give CPR, people usually go back to breathing properly on their own after the seizure

What happens next?

It can be distressing and worrying for parents and children, when a first seizure happens. If you've been to hospital with your child about a seizure, your GP will be told of any hospital care your child needs.

The GP may refer your child to a specialist consultant paediatrician. You'll then be invited for an appointment at Wood Street Health Centre. 

The doctor will examine your child and discuss their health with you. They may prescribe regular medications, or medications to be taken in an emergency.

You may be seen every six months or yearly by the doctors at Wood Street.  The consultant may arrange for your child to be seen by a specialist nurse.

Who should I tell about the seizure?

You should let your child's school, relatives and family friends know about the seizure and tell them to call 999 if another seizure occurs. 

It's important that your child goes back to their normal hobbies, school, and routines to reduce their stress and any anxiety about the seizure. Any school staff who support your child must be appropriately trained. 

Extra care may be required to supervise them before they've been seen by a specialist in the following activities:

  • Bathing: A shower, or shower attachment, is better than a bath. They should be supervised always by a responsible person if having a bath
  • Climbing: Your child should not climb anything taller than their own height unless they are wearing a harness and being supervised
  • Cycling: Your child can still ride a bicycle or scooter, but they should wear a helmet. You should consider whether they should ride on roads or need to be supervised
  • Swimming: Your child can still go swimming and do water sports provided they are supervised always by a responsible person
  • Driving: Older teenagers who hold a driving license have a legal responsibility to stop driving and tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) (or DVA in Northern Ireland) that they have had a seizure. For advice visit www.gov.uk/epilepsy-and-driving

Find out more on the Royal College of Paediatrics and child health website

Further information

To read more, see the following websites:

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/carers/learning-disabilities/easy-read-and-audio

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/

https://www.youngepilepsy.org.uk/