About half of children with cerebral palsy will also be diagnosed with epilepsy or experience seizures. Parents need to be aware of the co-occurrence of these two conditions so they can understand what treatments and therapies to pursue to improve their child’s quality of life.
Epilepsy—or a brain disorder that causes seizures—commonly co-occurs in children with cerebral palsy. Because both disorders happen to the same child so frequently, it’s important for parents whose children have cerebral palsy to be aware of the symptoms of both disorders.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder that causes seizures, which happen due to unusual electrical activity in the brain. They can impact the whole body and put the child in danger. For example, the child may lose consciousness, fall or throw up and choke.
There are many different types of seizures. Sometimes seizures cause an individual to violently thrash on the ground. Other times the individual seems to be daydreaming, but they will have no recollection about what they were thinking of. Other times they may nod their head continuously, blink rapidly or seem to be incredibly clumsy.
Children with cerebral palsy tend to have an earlier onset of epileptic seizures than children without cerebral palsy. And the disorder tends to be more severe in children with more severe forms of cerebral palsy.
Epilepsy is treated with anticonvulsant medications. While some individuals may eventually be able to stop taking antiepileptic medications, there is a risk that the seizures could come back once the medicine is stopped.
Types of Seizures Children With Cerebral Palsy Experience
There are two groups of seizures—focal and generalized. In a focal seizure, only one section of the brain is affected. Whereas in a generalized seizure, both halves of the brain experience abnormal electrical activity.
1. Focal Seizures
Focal or partial seizures are common for epileptic individuals, with 60 percent being diagnosed with focal seizures. Children experiencing a focal seizure can maintain their consciousness.
Focal seizures also cause the following symptoms:
- Impact speech
- Cause one eyelid to twitch (or other facial spasms)
- Increase the amount of saliva in the mouth
- Cause vomiting
2. Generalized Seizures
Children who are experiencing a generalized seizure may twitch (convulsive seizure), or they may remain still (non-convulsive seizure).
There are four types of generalized seizures:
- Grand Mal—sometimes called a tonic-clonic seizure where the child loses consciousness and falls then begins convulsing.
- Petite Mal—also known as an absence seizure where the child zones out for 15 seconds or less.
- Myoclonic—brief seizures that rapidly contract the child’s muscles.
- Atonic—a seizure that causes a loss of muscle tone, which can cause a child to slump or fall down.
Epilepsy Is Manageable
Epilepsy in children with cerebral palsy is a manageable condition. Epilepsy also usually subsides with development, and you shouldn’t expect this to be lifelong suffering for your child.
To help manage epilepsy in children with cerebral palsy, parents should be prepared and know what to do when a seizure occurs:
- Stay Calm: It’s important to remain calm when a seizure happens, especially if your child is conscious or when they regain their consciousness.
- Keep Them Safe and Comfortable: Remove your child’s glasses and loosen their clothes. Put something soft under their head and turn them onto their side so fluids can drain out of their mouth. Most importantly, remember not to put anything in their mouth.
- Time it: Pay attention to how long the seizure lasts. You can share this information with your doctor. If you need to call an ambulance, the paramedics will need to know the severity of the seizure.
If your child has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, try to work with a specialized pediatrician to get your child on treatment and therapy plans that cover multiple approaches, including physical and occupational therapies and anti-convulsant medications.