About 5 percent of Americans will experience a seizure at some point in their lives, with newborns and very young children at highest risk. Seizures happen when cells in the brain have abnormal electrical activity, temporarily disrupting the brain's normal electrical signals. "It's like a short circuit in the brain," says Adam Hartman, M.D., assistant professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures, but many things, including birth trauma, brain disorders, and chemical imbalances, can trigger them. Often, doctors can't determine the reason for a seizure.
When you picture someone having a seizure, you probably envision a jerking, shaking body and a temporary loss of consciousness. But signs of seizures often are subtler in babies, Dr. Hartman notes. "At first, you might not notice that anything is wrong." Because the types of seizures that affect infants are different than those affecting adults, it is important to know these signs.
See your pediatrician if you think your baby is having seizures. "If possible, take a video of the episode on your smartphone to show to your doctor," suggests Dr. Hartman, who is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Section on Neurology. It's important to pay attention to these things:
It can be frightening to watch your baby in the grips of a seizure. The most important thing you can do is make sure she is protected from injuries. Move away hard objects (toys, furniture) and roll her onto her side to help prevent choking in case she vomits. Do not try to snap her out of it or place anything in her mouth. Call 911 if your baby has trouble breathing, turns blue, seizes for more than five minutes, or is unresponsive for 30 minutes after a seizure ends.
If your baby is prone to seizures, your doctor may order a diagnostic test, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), which traces the electrical waves of the brain, or a brain-imaging test, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, to determine a cause.
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