Managing Cerebral Palsy Seizures

Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by a brain injury. This brain injury can also lead to seizures. Seizures are described as involuntary convulsions, a sensory disturbance or a loss of consciousness. Abnormal electrical activity in the brain and chemical changes in nerve cells can cause these episodes.

What is a Seizure?

A seizure is an electrical disturbance in the brain. It occurs suddenly and is uncontrollable. Although children with cerebral palsy have a heightened risk of seizures, they can be triggered in children without the condition as well.

Seizures can be caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, adverse reactions to medication, tumors, low blood sugar or infections. If your child has had a seizure, it is important to check with a medical professional to determine the cause and a course of action.

There are several treatment plans for managing seizures in children with cerebral palsy. Generally, seizures are managed with medication. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

Managing Seizures due to Cerebral Palsy

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain which is prompted by chemical changes in nerve cells. Recurrent episodes are categorized under the neurological disorder epilepsy.

Epilepsy is often related to brain injuries similar to the ones that cause cerebral palsy. This is why the two conditions are considered closely linked. Epilepsy occurs on a spectrum. Some people with the condition suffer frequent, severe seizures, while others suffer infrequent and mild seizures.

Although seizures generally cannot be cured, they can be managed. Seizures can be managed through medication, dietary changes, nerve or brain stimulation or surgery. Surgery is usually reserved for extreme cases of epilepsy.

There are two major types of seizures. Generalized seizures are considered the most serious and affect the entire brain. Focal seizures are less dangerous and mostly affect one region of the brain.

Generalized Seizures

  • Tonic-Clonic Seizures: Tonic-clonic seizures are often the most violent and dangerous type of seizure. They can produce violent shaking, loss of consciousness and even loss of bowel or bladder control. In some cases, they can lead to respiratory problems.
  • Clonic Seizures: Clonic seizures produce muscle spasms in the arms, neck and face. They can last for several moments at a time.
  • Tonic Seizures: Tonic seizures cause the muscles in the arms and legs to tense up for about 20 to 30 seconds. These seizures often happen during sleep.
  • Atonic Seizures: These seizures cause the muscles to fall limp. For those who experience this type of seizure, their head often leans forward. There is also a risk of falling and physical injury. Sometimes, people who suffer from atonic seizures are advised to wear a helmet to protect themselves from injury.
  • Myoclonic Seizures: These seizures cause the muscles to shake or jerk violently.
  • Absence Seizures: Individuals suffering from absence seizures may stare into space. Their eyes may also roll back into their head for several seconds.

Focal Seizures

  • Simple Focal Seizures: These seizures can produce twitching, flashes of light and dizziness.
  • Complex Focal Seizures: These seizures affect memory and emotion and can produce laughing or crying. Loss of consciousness may occur for several minutes.
  • Secondary Generalized Seizures: These seizures begin in one region of the brain and eventually spread to nerve cells in other areas. Symptoms may be similar to generalized seizures or other complex seizures.

Medications for Seizures

Seizure medications help seven out of ten patients to successfully control the occurrence of seizures.

These drugs, called anticonvulsants, work by acting on the central nervous system. Therefore, they may cause drowsiness or dizziness. When the drugs are activated, they normalize the nerve impulses and electric signals traveling through the brain. In turn, they prevent the abnormal activity that causes seizures.

Common medications prescribed for seizures include:

  • Dilantin®
  • Zarontin®
  • Tegretol®
  • Depakene®
  • Mysoline®
  • Klonopin
  • Phenobarbital

These drugs share several common side effects. Side effects include loss of coordination, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, dry mouth, tiredness and uncontrollable eye movements.

Surgery for Seizures

In cases where mediation cannot control seizures, surgery may be an option. Epilepsy that cannot be controlled by medication can lead to health risks such as physical injury, drowning, mental health issues, memory decline, developmental delays and in some rare instances, sudden death.

When surgery is performed on epileptic patients, doctors alter or remove the part of the brain where the seizures originate. Although surgery cannot cure cerebral palsy or epilepsy, it can help control and significantly reduce the occurrence of seizures.

There are several different types of surgery for seizures:

  • Resective Surgery: This surgery involves the removal of a small area of the brain where seizures originate.
  • Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy: LITT involves using a laser to destroy a small portion of brain tissue that is responsible for seizures.
  • Deep Brain Stimulation: Deep brain stimulation surgery implants an electrode deep into the brain which sends out timed electrical signals. These electrical signals disrupt the electric activity that causes seizures.
  • Corpus Callosotomy: This surgery severs the nerves which connect the right and left sides of the brain. The cut may be partial or complete, and it prevents abnormal brain activity from spreading from one side of the brain to the next.
  • Hemispherectomy: This procedure involves removing one side of the folded gray matter of the brain.
  • Functional Hemispherectomy: This surgery severs several connections from the seizure inducing hemisphere of the brain to the body’s nervous system. No brain tissue is removed.

There are several risks to brain surgery. These risks include stroke, severe headache, depression or mood swings, visual impairment and problems with speech or memory.

Additional Treatment Options

There are other options for treating seizures beyond medications and surgery.

Some physicians advise their patients to adhere to the ketogenic diet. This is a high-fat, low-carb diet that can control seizures in some patients. This diet recommends eating 3 to 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of carbohydrate and protein. It must be followed strictly for success at managing epilepsy.

Vagus nerve stimulation is another option for individuals suffering from seizures. This treatment involves having a device placed under the skin at the chest area. The device stimulates the vagus nerve, sending signals to the brain which prevent seizures.

Understanding Cerebral Palsy Seizures

Seizures are a serious condition that require medical treatment. Most children with cerebral palsy who suffer from seizures are treated with medications or dietary changes. However, in some severe cases, medications may not alleviate the seizures.

Doctors may recommend surgery if medication does not have a positive effect. Seizures can cause other physical or neurological injuries. Therefore, it is important to work with your medical provider to establish a treatment plan for your child.

If your child’s case of cerebral palsy was caused by medical malpractice, you may be eligible for a financial settlement. This money may be used to cover your child’s cost of care, medications or surgeries.

Author:Birth Injury Justice Center
Birth Injury Justice Center

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.

Last modified: January 7, 2019