Epilepsy Overview


Epilepsy Overview

Epilepsy is defined as one unprovoked seizure and a biological predisposition to have additional seizures

What is a seizure/convulsion? 

A sudden, stereotyped episode with change in motor activity, sensation, behavior, and/or consciousness due to an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain. If seizures continue repeatedly after the underlying problem is treated, the condition is called epilepsy.

Epilepsy is defined by any of the following conditions1:
  • At least two unprovoked (or reflex) seizures occurring >24 hours apart
  • One unprovoked (or reflex) seizure and a recurrence risk (at least 60% over the next 10 years)
  • Diagnosis of an epilepsy syndrome
Seizures and Epilepsy:

Seizures and epilepsy are not the same. An epileptic seizure is a transient occurrence of signs and/or symptoms due to abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain. Epilepsy is a disease characterized by an enduring predisposition to generate epileptic seizures and by the neurobiological, cognitive, psychological, and social consequences of this condition.1

There are approximately 14 million children and youth in the United States living with a special health care need according to the 2016/2017 National Survey of Children’s Health Data.2 Epilepsy is the most common childhood neurologic condition in the US with approximately 470,000 children aged birth to 18 years affected.3,4

​New York

Zack MM, Kobau R. National and state estimates of the numbers of adults and children with active epilepsy — United States, 2015. MMWR. 2017; 66:821–825

Seizures are classified into two groups52:
  1. Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain.
    • Absence seizures, sometimes called petit mal seizures, can cause rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring into space.
    • Tonic-clonic seizures, also called grand mal seizures, can make a person
        • Cry out.
        • Lose consciousness.
        • Fall to the ground.
        • Have muscle jerks or spasms.
  2. Focal seizures are located in just one area of the brain. These seizures are also called partial seizures.
    • Simple focal seizures affect a small part of the brain. These seizures can cause twitching or a change in sensation, such as a strange taste or smell.
    • Complex focal seizures can make a person with epilepsy confused or dazed. The person will be unable to respond to questions or direction for up to a few minutes.
    • Secondary generalized seizures begin in one part of the brain, but then spread to both sides of the brain. In other words, the person first has a focal seizure, followed by a generalized seizure.

The clinical spectrum of CYE varies as some forms of epilepsy can have dramatic effects on brain development in early childhood and lead to poor functioning later in life. Etiologies for the disease range from genetic and metabolic conditions to infections, trauma, and developmental brain disorders. Common comorbidities among children with epilepsy can include somatic, neurological, and mental health conditions. In addition to these concerns, it is estimated that 1 in 4,500 children with epilepsy are victims to sudden, unexpected death (SUDEP).6  

Additional Resources for the Primary Care Provider
  • AAP Epilepsy and Comorbidities ECHO: The AAP Epilepsy and Comorbidities ECHO served as an interactive forum for healthcare professionals to improve access to quality healthcare for CYE in their respective practices.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Find more information including managing epilepsy, data and statistics, preventing epilepsy, resources for parents, caregivers, and other professionals who may encounter people with epilepsy.
  • Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative: Also known as the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health (DRC), this center uses public data from the National Survey of Children's Health and the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs to present information on the status of children's health throughout the United States.
  • CURE Epilepsy: Stay updated on the latest research for a cure for epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy Foundation: Dedicated to improving the quality of lives for people with epilepsy, find more information for your patients and connections to community resources. 
  • Caring for Children and Youth with Epilepsy: What Primary Care Providers Need to Know Webinar Series: The series will aim to close the gap in knowledge and capacity in diagnosing, treating, and managing seizures and comorbidities by educating primary care providers through 10 webinar sessions.  
Need more information, technical assistance, or training? Visit our resources page! 

References for this page can be found here.

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