Epilepsy - What is it?

It is estimated that there are between 500,000 and 600,000 people with epilepsy in the UK. Most of those cases will have been diagnosed in childhood.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. Everybody’s brain is constantly engaged in electrical activity. During an epileptic fit, there is a burst of this activity that can cause the brain and body to behave strangely. This is known as having a seizure.

How is it diagnosed?

Epilepsy is particularly difficult to diagnose in a newborn baby; that’s because babies’ brains are still developing. Their movements are by their very nature jerky and sudden, behaviour which could normally indicate epilepsy in an older child but is normal in a baby. Sometimes their normal response to a loud noise or a bright light can be confused with a seizure.

In addition, some infants suffer a febrile seizure, which is not connected to epilepsy. A febrile seizure occurs when the baby suffers a rapid rise in temperature relating to an illness. They are relatively common and are very rarely serious.

A baby will undergo testing for epilepsy if he or she has had more than one seizure unrelated to illness or a temperature, and there is no other obvious cause. 

Symptoms can include the baby appearing blue, having abnormal twitching movements, apparent loss of consciousness. Sometimes the symptoms manifest themselves facially, where their eyes may roll or their eyelids flicker. In other cases the baby may seem to lose focus on its surroundings and you may find it difficult to gain their attention for a few moments. 

Causes of epilepsy

The most common causes of epilepsy in babies are:

  • Lack of oxygen at birth or birth trauma
  • Being born over two months’ premature
  • Because of an infection, such as neo-natal meningitis
  • Being born with an abnormal development of the brain
  • Also, a Metabolic issue, such as low levels of glucose, calcium or sodium in the blood may cause transient seizures. This is temporary and not Epilepsy.

Diagnosis will (most likely) include an Electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures the electronic activity in the brain. It may also include:

  • An MRI scan to look at the brain to see if there are any signs of damage
  • A CT scan, which takes an x-ray of the brain
  • Blood tests to discover if there is an underlying infection or a Metabolic disorder

Epilepsy and pregnancy

Mothers who take medication for epilepsy are advised to speak to their medical professionals to discuss the issues regarding certain medications and their possible effects on the unborn baby.

What does the treatment look like?

There are many different types of treatment available to deal with epilepsy in babies. What is prescribed will depend very much on the severity of their condition and the type of seizure they suffer from. Mostly, the treatment will consist of anti-seizure medication. Although it’s a worrying time for parents, epilepsy is not necessarily a lifelong condition. Many babies will grow out of it.

 

Some may only experience a handful of seizures in their entire life. For others the condition is something they manage through taking medication or following a specialised diet. Every person is different and every case is different.

New research has demonstrated people with epilepsy in the UK generally experience positive long-term prognoses in terms of seizure control.

Where to go for support

www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/

www.epilepsyresearch.org.uk/

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Epilepsy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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EmbryoCare Future Family Insurance is a unique policy that provides expectant mothers with added assurance from the 20 week scan* through to their child's second birthday. EmbryoCare aims to ease the financial impact of unforeseen costs that can result from 14 covered conditions - including Epilepsy.

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