Know the hidden signs of epilepsy

July 1, 1993

Know the hidden signs of epilepsy

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WASHINGTON, DC—It’s not unusual to see a child daydream or appear distant and unresponsive—or for a toddler, just learning to walk, to suddenly fall for no apparent reason. But when these seemingly common behaviors occur often or in patterns, they actually may signal that a child is having seizures.

The Epilepsy Foundation considers the hidden signs of childhood epilepsy to be a significant problem nationwide. To help parents and caregivers of young children recognize the common and little-known signs of epilepsy, the Epilepsy Foundation has released the following information.

Seizures are the most common neurological disorder of childhood. But not all seizures are convulsions, and symptoms can be difficult to recognize. Many of the “hidden” signs mimic normal behavior. Recognition of these signs is important in the early diagnosis and treatment to avoid learning disabilities, social problems and safety risks associated with epilepsy in young children. Early diagnosis offers the child with epilepsy a better chance of treatment success and a future free of seizures.

“Epilepsy can be particularly difficult to diagnose in young children because they are unable to clearly communicate what they are feeling,” says Paul M. Levishohn, M.D., pediatric neurologist at Denver Children’s Hospital. “The symptoms they display are often misinterpreted, which can lead to weeks and even months before a diagnosis is made.” Although these signs don’t necessarily mean a child has epilepsy, they should be brought to the attention of the doctor.

The “hidden signs” of seizures in children include:

l Short attention blackouts that look like daydreaming.

l Sudden falls for no reason.

l Lack of response for brief periods.

l Dazed behavior.

l Unusual sleepiness and irritability when wakened from sleep.

l Head nodding.

l Rapid blinking.

l Frequent complaints from the child that things look, sound, taste, smell or feel “funny.”

l Clusters of “jackknife” movements by babies who are sitting down.

l Clusters of grabbing movements with both arms in babies lying on their backs.

l Sudden stomach pain followed by confusion and sleepiness.

l Repeated movements that look out of place or unnatural.

l Frequent stumbling or unusual clumsiness.

l Sudden repeated episodes of fear for no apparent reason.

For more information on epilepsy and the “Kids & Seizures: Know the Hidden Signs” campaign, contact your local Epilepsy Foundation, or visit the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, www.epilepsyfoundation.org.

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