Infant Seizures

Seizures in infants can be serious and even life-threatening. In order to provide your child with the best possible care and future outcomes, it is important to understand seizures: what they are, why they happen, their prognosis and the role your medical team should play.

What Are Infant Seizures?

Seizures occur in babies, children and adults when there is a disruption in the brain’s normal electrical activity. It may surprise you to know that seizures are relatively common in infants. Nevertheless, they can indicate more serious underlying problems that merit immediate medical attention.

Seizures Described

Nerve cells are located throughout the body, including in the brain. They communicate with each other using electrical impulses. If this “dialogue” is interrupted for any reason, the patient may experience a seizure. Some of the primary causes of seizures include:

  • High fever.
  • High or low blood sugar levels.
  • Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.
  • Concussion.
  • Illness.

If seizures occur more than twice, the baby may be diagnosed with epilepsy.

Types of Seizures

Seizures can affect different parts of the brain. There are two types of seizures that are categorized based on the extent to which they affect this main central nervous system organ. They are:

  • Focal or partial seizures. These events only involve a portion of the brain. A common symptom of focal seizures is the twitching of the patient’s hand. These events are often preceded by an aura or a feeling of fear or déjà vu. Simple focal seizures are concentrated on one muscle group such as the hand, whereas complex types can happen anywhere in the brain. Symptoms of complex seizures may include a loss of awareness or exhibition unusual behaviors.
  • Generalized seizures. Occurring in both sides of the brain, these usually result in a loss of consciousness and severe fatigue afterwards. Types of generalized seizures include:
  • Absence or petit mal. This type causes a short alteration of consciousness in which the patient begins to stare or “zone out.” Although they remain upright, the patient’s eyes may blink or twitch. The person might also make mumbling sounds. When the seizure is over, the patient does not remember it. Absence seizures are most common in children.
  • Atonic seizure or “drop attack.” In this type, the patient suddenly loses muscle tone and may fall, drop their head or become limp.
  • Generalized tonic-clonic or grand mal seizures. These severe seizures can involve some or all of the following: limb contraction or extension, tremors, relaxation of muscles and post-ictal symptoms such as problems with vision or speech, sleepiness, headaches and body aches.
  • Myoclonic seizures. These are characterized by quick, jerky muscle movements and often happen a few times a day or for several days.

Causes of Infant Seizures

Seizures can be a tangible sign that there is a disruption in the brain’s communication signals. Alternatively, they can be the result of pre-existing brain damage.

Types of injuries that can cause brain damage and result in seizures include the following:

  • Trauma-based injuries such as skull fractures or severe concussions.
  • Oxygen deprivation due to total loss of oxygen for an extended period of minutes.
  • Oxygen deprivation, neonatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy or low levels of oxygen experienced by the baby before, during or after birth.
  • Brain hemorrhage (when blood gushes into the brain).
  • Brain ischemia (when the brain does not have enough blood).

Additionally, there are several types of illnesses that can lead to brain damage and subsequent seizures:

  • Group B strep infection. Since one in four women are asymptomatic carriers of this bacteria, it is essential that pregnant people be tested for strep B at 37 weeks. Additionally, the medical team needs to note and quickly respond to signs of Strep B infection as soon as they appear. These include breathing difficulties, lethargy, fever, pale appearance, grunting sounds and fluctuations in body temperature. In severe cases, seizures may occur.
    Kernicterus. This type of brain damage begins with jaundice and becomes more severe as bilirubin levels increase. Seizures can signal to doctors that the jaundice has worsened into full-blown kernicterus.
  • Meningitis. This severe infection can stem from bacteria, viruses or fungi. The condition targets the child’s spinal cord and brain functioning and can have long-term negative consequences. Seizures can be a sign that some other form of infection is developing into meningitis. Symptoms in infants include lethargy, fever, poor feeding, pallor, weak cry, irritability and seizures.
  • Cerebral palsy. Seizures can be one of the primary ways that cerebral palsy is diagnosed in infants and young children.

Symptoms of Seizures in Infants

Although the anatomy of seizures is the same regardless of age, infants’ brains are still developing and changing. Therefore, the symptoms of seizures in babies may manifest differently than in adults. They include:

  • Stiffening or jerking of limbs, often alternating from one side to the other.
  • Sudden forward jerking of the body.
  • Sudden changes in heart rate, facial expression or breathing.
  • Impairment of responsiveness that makes it difficult to rouse your baby or get their attention.
  • Unforeseen loss of balance.
  • Rapid eye movements or twitching.

Confirming a Seizure Diagnosis

The electroencephalogram (EEG) is the most common method of determining whether someone is having a seizure. Generally conducted by a pediatric neurologist with specialized knowledge in interpreting the results, this test displays the child’s brain activity and identifies any abnormalities. Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with epilepsy protocols as well as lab work to test for genetic or metabolic problems may be conducted. A genetic workup may also be performed in some cases.

Treating Seizures in Infants

The goal of treatment for infant seizures is to reduce their frequency or eliminate them altogether. This usually happens via administration of medications. The particular intervention will depend on the severity and type of seizures, your child’s age and medication side effects. In addition to medications, seizures are increasingly being addressed with ketogenic diet, vagus nerve stimulation, surgery and even CBD oil.

Prognosis for Infant Seizures

Your child’s long-term prognosis depends on several factors, including the type of seizure your child experiences and what caused them in the first place. In many cases, the baby also has underlying conditions that generated the seizures, and these must also be taken into consideration when predicting outcomes. The best way to improve the odds that seizures will have a reduced or minimal effect on your baby is to collaborate with your doctors to come up with a plan and then to follow it strictly, including administration of medications and any other recommended therapies. Additionally, understand the side effects and potential interactions of any medications prescribed to your child, making sure to check with your doctor before changing types or dosages. Furthermore, keep in mind that your child’s seizures may change over time and could be affected by sports and other activities in which they choose to engage. This further underscores the importance of ongoing communication and collaboration with your child’s medical team throughout their life.

If you believe that the actions or inactions of your doctors may have led to brain damage or seizures in your infant, time is of the essence. It is vital that you contact a birth injury law firm as soon as possible to learn whether you are entitled to any compensation. Remember that seizures may be ongoing and have a profound effect on you, your child and your family. If your medical team is at fault, a birth injury attorney can help you to obtain the compensation you deserve.