Seizures and Epilepsy—What’s the Difference?

by Baylor Scott & White Staff on April 11, 2014

in Medical Information

epsIf you’ve ever witnessed a seizure it can be a bit alarming. Seizures typically involve jerking movements, changes to the eyes or abnormal muscle contractions. For those standing by, it can be scary if you don’t know much about what is going on.

All seizures are caused by abnormal electrical disturbances in the brain, however not all seizures are the same. They can start from a variety of triggers, affect different parts of the brain, or be classified in different ways.

To better understand seizures, pediatric neurologist Satish Agadi, MD from McLane Children’s Scott & White  offers valuable insight as he emphasizes in epiletology, or helping children with epilepsy.

What is the Difference between a Seizure and Epilepsy

If you have heard of epilepsy, you may know that the child suffers from seizures. To be clear, there is a range of severity with epilepsy. Not all seizures are classified as epilepsy.

“A seizure is an electrical surge of the brain, involving shaking, stiffness or convolution,” says Dr. Agadi. “Epilepsy is two or more seizures that are unprovoked.”

Seizures can happen for a variety of reasons, but in order for the seizures to be classified as epilepsy, they must be unprovoked. This means there is no immediate cause connected to the seizures. Some seizures are caused by low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or a change to the way the child’s heart is working. Some very young children have ‘febrile convulsions’ (jerking movements) when they have a high temperature, but these are not the same as epileptic seizures.

What Causes Seizures?

Dr. Agadi says each child is unique and the reason for their specific seizure varies. For some children, a seizure can be triggered by bright light, a lack of sleep or stress. There is a broad spectrum of what can cause a child to experience a seizure, so talking with a doctor is the best way to have your specific needs met.

Specialists are trained in the proper medication to help control seizures. Usually, finding the right medication can help control the onset of seizures. If your child is not responding to the medication, your team of doctors will work with you to find the best solution.

What are Some Precautions for Children with Seizures?

Seizures are serious and should be properly treated and monitored. After talking with your doctor, you may have some precautions to take or recommendations to follow.

For some children, they may have to be supervised when swimming, biking, playing outside or other activities. For teenagers, Texas law requires that they are seizure-free for the past six months to avoid potential harm while on the road.

What Should I Do If I See Someone Experiencing a Seizure?

“The most important advice I tell someone is don’t get panicked,” says Dr. Agadi. “Make sure the child is safe by assessing airway breathing and circulation.”

In order to keep the child safe during a seizure follow these tips:

  • Turn the child on his side, so the tongue will not fall back and stop the airway.
  • Do not put your hand near the mouth of the child.
  • Get help.
    • If the seizure lasts less than two minutes, call your neurologist office for recommendations on what to do next (McLane Children’s Neurology can be reached at 254-724-3409).
    • If the seizure lasts three to four minutes, call 911 to come and assist the child or transport to the emergency room.
  • After a seizure, your child may be confused, dazed, drowsy or have a headache. Remember to follow up with the child’s caregiver for specific suggestions.

For more about seizures, visit our health library, visit with our pediatric neurologists or check out our blog article all about epilepsy.

Have you ever witnessed a seizure? What did you do? 

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