Epilepsy is a health condition that causes people to have repeated unprovoked seizures. Pediatric epilepsy is the most common childhood brain disorder in the United States, affecting about 470,000 children and youth.

What is a Seizure?

Seizures happen when there is a sudden change in electrical activity in the brain. There are many different types of seizures, and each type affects people differently. Someone who is having a seizure may stare, collapse, shake or become unaware of what’s going on around them. Learn more about the different types of seizures.

Infantile spasms (a descriptor of epileptic spasms) are a unique type of seizures that happen in babies and can lead to developmental consequences if left untreated. These seizures usually start around age 2 months to 12 months. Learn more about infantile spasms.

What causes Pediatric Epilepsy?

Epilepsy in children can be caused by many different health problems like genetic disorders, brain injuries, strokes or brain tumors that change the structure or function of the brain. However, physicians often cannot find the reason why a child develops epilepsy.

How do Physicians Diagnose Pediatric Epilepsy?

A child or adolescent may be diagnosed with epilepsy if:

  • They’ve had at least 2 seizures, at least 24 hours apart, without another clear cause
  • They have had at least 1 seizure and your physician thinks they are likely to have another seizure
  • The seizure was not caused by an injury or another health condition (like diabetes, a fever or an infection)

Learn more about how physicians diagnose pediatric epilepsy.

After a child or adolescent has a seizure, their physician may do additional testing, such as brain imaging or a test of brain activity called an electroencephalogram (EEG), to learn more about their seizures and find out what type of epilepsy they have. Learn more about the types of pediatric epilepsy.

How Does Epilepsy Affect the Health of Children and Youth?

Epilepsy affects every child/adolescent differently depending on their age, the type of seizures they have, and how they respond to epilepsy treatment. Some children and youth can easily keep their seizures under control by taking seizure medicine and may outgrow their seizures. Others may have cases that are more difficult to manage and require lifelong treatment. Learn more about treatment options for epilepsy.

Children and youth with epilepsy are more likely to have other health conditions, including:

  • Developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (commonly known as ADHD)
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety

Learn more about other health conditions related to epilepsy.

For some children and youth living with epilepsy, the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) is an important concern. SUDEP refers to death in a person living with epilepsy whose death isn’t caused by another illness or injury. Parents and caregivers can lower their child’s risk of SUDEP by taking steps to keep seizures under control. Learn more about SUDEP.

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American Academy of Pediatrics