May also be called: Febrile Seizures; Absence Seizures; Tonic-Clonic Seizures; Petit Mal Seizures; Grand Mal Seizures
More to Know
"Seizure" is a general term that refers to sudden abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that can cause someone to collapse, convulse, or have another temporary disturbance of normal brain function, often with a loss or change in consciousness.
There are different types of seizures, with different causes and treatments.
Some kids under 5 years old have febrile seizures, which can occur when they develop a medium or high fever — usually above 100.4°F (38°C). While frightening to watch, these seizures are usually brief and rarely cause any life-threatening, serious, or long-term problems. Febrile seizures stop on their own, while the fever continues until it is treated.
A grand mal (or tonic-clonic) seizure is when abnormal electrical activity occurs over both sides of the brain. These seizures can cause whole-body movements and loss of consciousness. After a seizure, kids and teens may be confused, tired, or have a headache. These are managed with medications and, sometimes, a special diet or a device that stimulates a specific nerve.
Absence seizures (also called petit mal seizures) can interrupt concentration, focus, and memory. Someone who has one will be momentarily unaware of his or her surrounding. These seizures usually last just seconds, but can occur many times a day. Sometimes the seizure is so brief that it's not noticed by others. Medications can help control symptoms.
In older kids, about 10% or more have standard fainting spells (syncope), which is often associated with a brief seizure or seizure-like spell.
Epilepsy causes electrical signals in the brain to misfire, which can lead to multiple seizures over a period of time. Anyone can get epilepsy at any age, but most new diagnoses are in kids. Medication to prevent seizures is usually the first type of treatment prescribed for epilepsy management.
If epilepsy is suspected, the doctor will order medical tests, including an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain wave activity.
Keep in Mind
While absence seizures do not look as serious as some other types of seizures, they can be dangerous if, for example, they occur during swimming, bathing, or driving. Someone who has them should never swim, ride a bicycle, or drive alone.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.