Children are most susceptible to seizures when they are infants, when their brains are first developing. Watching an infant have a seizure can be a traumatic event for parents, but it's important to record what is happening to your child so you can describe the incident to a doctor. Diagnosis of seizures and determining the cause can be difficult in infants as they are not able to convey what they are feeling.
Identifying seizures in infants can be difficult as infants are too young to describe what is happening to them or how they're feeling. Seizures, unexpected surges of electrical activity within the brain, can be hardly noticeable even in adults. When infants experience seizures they may stare for several minutes, even when something is waved in front of their eyes to distract them. Repetitive, violent movements of the arms and legs may be another sign of seizures in infants. Often during seizures, infants' breathing will be affected and they may turn blue or pale. An infant's legs may become stiff, with the stiffness alternating from side to side, and legs may jerk uncontrollably to the stomach. If these movements cannot be restrained, a seizure might be occurring.
Infants become more susceptible to illness when they reach two to three months and lose some of their immunity provided in the womb. Viruses and bacterial infections can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and fever, the combination of which can affect the brain and lead to a seizure. Infections, such as rubella, herpes simplex and HIV, present before birth may also lead to seizures.
Febrile seizures are also caused by fevers, but are due to the fluctuating body temperature of the infant. Febrile seizures are more frequent in infants over six months old and are somewhat common, occurring in one in 30 infants. Infants usually grow out of this type of seizure and will not have to continue with medication.
Brains require certain chemicals to function and infants may not be able to produce enough for the brain to grow and operate properly. Imbalances of certain nutrients or chemicals or enzymes in the blood may lead to a seizure in infants who have inborn errors in metabolism.
Additional causes of seizures in infants include shaken baby syndrome, trauma to the brain at birth, stroke, or a tumor. Other brain disorders may also be responsible. The infant may also be diagnosed with epilepsy, a seizure disorder, later in life.
To diagnose a seizure, doctors may run several tests, but the first question asked will likely be: What does the seizure look like? It's important for parents to record the actions of the infant before, during and after the suspected seizure and report what they observe to the doctor. If the actions are consistent with seizures, the doctor may recommend an EEG or electroencephalogram, which monitors the activity of the brain. Blood and urine tests may be run to identify any infections, viruses or chemical imbalances that may be the cause of the seizures.