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Understanding seizures and epilepsy

Funny turns, faints and seizures

A seizure, convulsion or a fit is a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain that may result in a change of behaviour or activity in a child. These may show itself in either one of the following ways :

  • A blank spell
  • A period of confusion, or loss of awareness
  • Violent stiffening of the limbs
  • Violent jerking of the limbs
  • A sudden fall to the ground

Many children experience behaviours that may look like a seizure. These ‘funny turns’ or ‘faints’ or ‘spells’ may include:

  • Startles
  • Sleep movements
  • Breath-holding spells
  • Reflex anoxic seizures
  • Daydreaming
  • Fainting

What is epilepsy?

The term epilepsy comes from the Greek word “epilambanien”, which means ‘to seize’ or ‘attack’. Epilepsy is used to describe the condition when repeated seizures occur without being provoked. Epilepsy is also known as “sawan babi” in Malay, “cho chin” in Mandarin, or “kaka valipu” in Tamil.

Note :

Seizures that are provoked is not epilepsy. Seizures may be provoked by high fever, a low blood sugar level, or when the child is ill following head injury, bleeding in the brain or when suffering from brain infections.

Who gets epilepsy?

At least one percent of children will have a single unprovoked seizure in childhood, but only less than half of these children go on to develop epilepsy.

Why does my child have epilepsy?

Epilepsy is caused by a malfunction of brain cells. Brain cells work by forming small electrical currents. Epilepsy occurs when these currents become unstable, similar to a short circuit, resulting in a seizure.
Children with epilepsy have an abnormal tendency to form unstable brain currents, which may

  • Be due to an inherited, natural tendency towards developing seizures, or
  • Arise from
    • Abnormal brain formation during fetal development
    • Brain injury in the past a result from infections, asphyxia or bleeding involving the brain
    • Progressive brain diseases, such as brain tumours or diseases that cause brain degeneration

Last reviewed : 25 January 2006