"Seizure" is a general term that refers to a sudden malfunction in the brain that causes someone to collapse, convulse, or have another temporary disturbance of normal brain function, often with a loss or change in consciousness.
Most seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain or by fainting (decrease in blood flow to the brain). Symptoms may vary depending on the part of the brain involved, but often include unusual sensations, uncontrollable muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.
Some seizures may be the result of another medical problem, such as low blood sugar, infection, a head injury, accidental poisoning, or drug overdose. They also can be due to a brain tumor or other health problem affecting the brain. And anything that results in a sudden lack of oxygen or a reduction in blood flow to the brain can cause a seizure. In some cases, a seizure's cause is never discovered.
When seizures occur more than once or over and over, it may indicate the ongoing condition epilepsy.
Some kids under 5 years old have febrile seizures, which can occur when they develop a medium or high fever — usually above 100.4º F (38º C). While terrifying to parents, these seizures are usually brief and rarely cause any life-threatening, serious, or long-term problems, unless the fever is associated with a serious infection, such as meningitis.
In kids under 5 years old, breath-holding spells can cause seizures. These aren't the spells where kids hold their breath to get back at their parents. Instead, these occur in kids who have an exaggerated reflex so that when they're hurt or emotionally upset they stop taking in a breath (with or without crying hard first). They then turn blue or very pale, often pass out, and might have a full convulsion-like seizure in which the body is stiff and they're unconscious and not breathing. While scary to parents, these spells usually stop on their own and the kids almost never suffer any harm from them. Call your doctor if such a spell occurs.
In older kids, about 10% or more have standard fainting spells (also called syncope), which is often associated with a brief seizure or seizure-like spell. A child may stiffen or even twitch or convulse a few times. Fortunately, this rarely indicates epilepsy. Most kids recover very quickly (seconds to minutes) and don't require specialized treatment.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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