It is estimated that there are between 500,000 and 600,000 people with epilepsy in the UK. Most of those cases will have been diagnosed in childhood.
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. Everybody’s brain is constantly engaged in electrical activity. During an epileptic fit, there is a burst of this activity that can cause the brain and body to behave strangely. This is known as having a seizure.
Epilepsy is particularly difficult to diagnose in a newborn baby; that’s because babies’ brains are still developing. Their movements are by their very nature jerky and sudden, behaviour which could normally indicate epilepsy in an older child but is normal in a baby. Sometimes their normal response to a loud noise or a bright light can be confused with a seizure.
In addition, some infants suffer a febrile seizure, which is not connected to epilepsy. A febrile seizure occurs when the baby suffers a rapid rise in temperature relating to an illness. They are relatively common and are very rarely serious.
A baby will undergo testing for epilepsy if he or she has had more than one seizure unrelated to illness or a temperature, and there is no other obvious cause.
Symptoms can include the baby appearing blue, having abnormal twitching movements, apparent loss of consciousness. Sometimes the symptoms manifest themselves facially, where their eyes may roll or their eyelids flicker. In other cases the baby may seem to lose focus on its surroundings and you may find it difficult to gain their attention for a few moments.
The most common causes of epilepsy in babies are:
Diagnosis will (most likely) include an Electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures the electronic activity in the brain. It may also include:
Mothers who take medication for epilepsy are advised to speak to their medical professionals to discuss the issues regarding certain medications and their possible effects on the unborn baby.
There are many different types of treatment available to deal with epilepsy in babies. What is prescribed will depend very much on the severity of their condition and the type of seizure they suffer from. Mostly, the treatment will consist of anti-seizure medication. Although it’s a worrying time for parents, epilepsy is not necessarily a lifelong condition. Many babies will grow out of it.
Some may only experience a handful of seizures in their entire life. For others the condition is something they manage through taking medication or following a specialised diet. Every person is different and every case is different.
New research has demonstrated people with epilepsy in the UK generally experience positive long-term prognoses in terms of seizure control.
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