Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy

Quick Answer

Children who have cerebral palsy are highly susceptible to seizures. The type and frequency of the seizures will depend on what causes them. Around 94% of children with cerebral palsy will have some type of seizures in their childhood. While that percentage sounds alarming, once parents are aware of what is happening, epileptic seizures can be safely managed.

Get a Free Case Review

Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy Explained

Epilepsy is a condition that causes seizures due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Some form of injury often causes this unusual electrical activity to occur.

Almost all children with cerebral palsy will also have some form of epilepsy. Epilepsy will often appear earlier in children with cerebral palsy than in other children. However, the frequency of epilepsy is highest in children with spastic quadriplegia (which affects all four limbs) and lowest in children with spastic diplegia (which affects both sides of the body).

Like cerebral palsy, epilepsy can present itself in different ways. Some seizures will be violent convulsions with a loss of consciousness. Others will cause an individual to look like they are zoning out or confused for a moment.

Epileptic seizures can be controlled with antiepileptic medications. In some cases, the underlying issue causing the seizures will resolve itself as your child ages.

Types of Seizures

Children with cerebral palsy are more likely than other children to also have epilepsy. While the type and severity of the seizures depend on the cause, a child with a more severe form of cerebral palsy is more likely to have more dangerous seizures.

However, that connection does not mean that your child’s seizures and cerebral palsy symptoms are being caused by the same issues. In some cases, your child’s epilepsy can be controlled and resolved.

The different causes of your child’s epilepsy will lead to different types of seizures. Some will require your child to be on antiepileptic medications for a long time, with a high chance of relapse once your child is off of the drug. Other seizures might disappear as your child enters their teen years.

There are several different types of epileptic seizures. These groups are divided into generalized seizures and partial seizures.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain from the onset of the seizure. They are also the types of seizures that cause a loss of consciousness either for a short amount of time or a more extended period.

There are four types of generalized seizures:

  • Petit mal
  • Grand mal
  • Myoclonic
  • Atonic

Petit Mal Seizures

Known as “absence seizures,” petit mal seizures are characterized by staring spells of 15 seconds or less. They happen brain functions get disrupted due to abnormal electrical activity. Petit mal seizures can occur with other seizures. These seizures occur most commonly in people under the age of 20, usually in children aged 6 to 12.

Grand Mal Seizures

A grand mal seizure is an intense seizure characterized by a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. Also known as a tonic-clonic seizure, this is usually what comes to mind when people think of seizures. Although grand mal seizures are traumatic, some people who have one seizure will not have another.

There are two phases to a grand mal seizure—tonic and clonic:

  • Tonic: In the tonic phase, the victim loses consciousness, their muscles contract and they fall. This phase lasts between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Clonic: In the clonic phase, the victim’s muscles go into rhythmic contractions or convulsions. This phase usually lasts less than 2 minutes.

People with epilepsy may need daily anti-seizure medication to prevent a recurrence. If you see someone having a grand mal seizure, put something soft under their head and do not try to restrain them. Try to keep them as safe as possible in their environment. Note how long the convulsions last, as this information might be important for medical professionals.

Myoclonic Seizures

Myoclonic seizures are brief, rapid contractions of bodily muscles. They can cause the individual’s arms or legs to jerk suddenly.

Atonic Seizures

Atonic seizures are when the person becomes limp. Their head may nod, they may slump over or they could collapse suddenly. Because this type of seizure tends to be resistant to medication, children and adults might wear protective headgear to prevent injury.

Partial Seizures

Partial seizures, also known as focal seizures, occur when abnormal electrical disturbances happen in just one area of the brain. Partial seizures can occasionally become generalized seizures. When this happens, it is called a secondary generalization.

Partial seizures fall into 2 groups: simple and complex. Simple partial seizures do not affect awareness or memory. Complex partial seizures affect memory of the events before, during and immediately after the seizure.

Simple Partial Seizures

Individuals will not lose consciousness during a simple partial seizure. While some individuals will be able to function normally during a partial seizure, others might find themselves unable to speak or move even though they are aware of what is happening around them.

Depending on where the seizure takes place in the brain, it can impact the five senses. Those affected might hear a buzzing sound, taste something unpleasant or see different objects (including their own body) change their size and shape.

Partial seizures can impact your child’s emotions. They might become terrified or angry all of the sudden or burst into tears or fits of laughter.

Complex Partial Seizures

Often before a complex partial seizure, a person will get a warning sign of some sort. Warning signs can be different in every person. Often these feelings are known as “auras.”

During a complex partial seizure, the person will appear confused and disoriented. They may make repetitive motions or sounds or look around. These seizures typically last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. After the seizure ends, the person will not remember the warning or the episode.

Epilepsy Symptoms

When you hear the term epilepsy, it can bring to mind the idea of someone convulsing—but not all seizures look the same. While some do cause convulsions, others cause the child to zone out and look like they are daydreaming.

Here is a list of some of the different ways epileptic seizures present themselves:

  • Stumbling frequently, being unusually clumsy or falling suddenly
  • Zoning out briefly
  • Experiencing gaps in their memory
  • Repetitive movements like rapid blinking or constantly nodding their head
  • Being unusually sleepy and irritable if they’re woken up
  • Repeated “jackknife” movement of babies when they are sitting or
  • Grabbing motions with both arms if babies are lying down

Cerebral Palsy Epilepsy Treatment and Therapy

Epilepsy can often be treated antiepileptic medication to limit or stop them from happening. However, some individuals can experience intense side effects from the medications, such as struggling to form and express their thoughts.

If a known brain injury is causing the seizures, surgery might also be an option, but it is not without its risks. Be sure to speak with your doctor about the different treatment options and the benefits and risks associated with each.

Legal Help for Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy

Because cerebral palsy and epilepsy can be caused by a birth injury, financial compensation may be available to you to help pay for your child’s medication, treatment, therapy and special needs costs. Contact the Birth Injury Justice Center today at 800-914-1562 to get a free medical case review. You may be able to pursue legal action and get the help your child needs.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
  1. "Signs and Symptoms” Epilepsy Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.epilepsy.com/living-epilepsy/parents-and-caregivers/about-kids/signs-symptoms. Accessed December 8, 2018.
  2. “Understanding more about cerebral palsy and seizures” Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.mcri.edu.au/users/murdoch-childrens-media/blog/understanding-more-about-cerebral-palsy-and-seizures. Accessed December 8, 2018.
  3. “Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy” NCBI. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21446143. Accessed December 8, 2018.
  4. “Seizures in Children With Cerebral Palsy and White Matter Injury” Pediatrics. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/139/3/e20162975. Accessed December 8, 2018.
  5. “Epilepsy in Children with Cerebral Palsy” Elsevier. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1059131102002558. Accessed December 8, 2018.
  6. “Partial Seizures” Epilepsy Foundation. Retrieved from: https://epilepsychicago.org/epilepsy/seizure-types/partial-seizures/. Accessed December 8, 2018.