Knowing the Hidden Signs of Epilepsy

Knowing the hidden signs of epilepsy (a/k/a "seizure disorders") is
especially important for parents. The Epilepsy Foundation of America
presently has underway a campaign to inform parents about the hidden signs
of epilepsy in children. Here are some basic facts and figures about

  • Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder after stroke and
    Alzheimer's disease, affecting 2.3 million Americans of all ages.

  • 10 % of all Americans will have at least one seizure during their

  • Nationwide, 181,000 new cases are diagnosed each year - about 20 per

  • Most new cases occur among children and the elderly.

  • 70% of all cases have an unknown cause.

  • Approximately 30% of cases are caused by: head trauma from auto
    accidents, gunshot wounds, sporting accidents, brain tumors, strokes, lead
    or alcohol poisoning, infection, or maternal injury. A few rare forms are

  • Epilepsy is never contagious.

Parents of children should keep watch for these hidden signs of epilepsy in
small children:

  • Short attention blackouts that look like daydreaming
  • Sudden falls for no reason
  • Lack of response for brief periods
  • Dazed behavior
  • Head nodding
  • Rapid blinking
  • Frequent complaints from a child that things look, taste, sound,
    smell or feel "funny"
  • Clusters of "jackknife" movements by babies who are sitting down
  • Clusters of grabbing movements with both arms in babies lying on
    their backs
  • Sudden stomach pain followed by confusion and sleepiness
  • Repeated movements that look out of place or unnatural
  • Frequent stumbling or unusual clumsiness
  • Sudden repeated episodes of fear for no apparent reason

Early detection and treatment of children who experience seizures is
important in preventing further problems. Undiagnosed seizures can lead to:

  • Learning disabilities - brief blackouts will make it difficult to
    follow instructions and will impede learning at school
  • Safety risks, because sudden loss of awareness may lead to accidents
    (swimming, climbing, etc.)
  • Behavior problems as the child cannot communicate his/her
    experiences and "acts out"
  • Social problems, because the child, his family and others do not
    understand the cause or nature of the child's unusual actions or behavior.

    What can all parents do, aside from look for the signs? Taking just one step
    will reduce your child's likelihood of developing a seizure disorder:
    bicycle helmets. Children wearing helmets would reduce childhood epilepsy by
    up to five percent!

    In about 70% of all cases, individuals diagnosed with epilepsy can live
    normal, healthy lives with few or no seizures. Control is obtained through
    medications, surgery, electrical stimulation therapy or a special
    (ketogenic) diet. Medication is by far the most common and is usually the
    first to be tried. Yet, approximately one million Americans experience
    inadequate relief from their seizures or their treatment's side effects. New
    medications with fewer side effects are desperately needed. The Epilepsy
    Foundation is helping to fund research for development of such medications.

    For more information, contact The Epilepsy Foundation at (503) 205-2341 or (503) 621-0231.

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