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Seizures, Epilepsy, and Birth Injuries

Epilepsy, one of the most common neurological disorders, causes seizures (sudden surges of electrical activity in the brain) and sometimes other symptoms, as well. Some cases of epilepsy are caused by genetic factors. Others are the result of brain damage, including brain damage caused by birth injuries.

Understanding seizures

The duration and severity of seizures depends on the location and extent of electrical activity in the brain. Some people have focal or partial seizures where the seizure activity happens in only part of one brain hemisphere. Others have generalized seizures, which means there is widespread electrical activity in both sides of the brain.

The different types of generalized seizures are:

Absence seizures (petit mal): This is a relatively mild type of seizure that causes loss of consciousness but no convulsions. The person will stare blankly and may make involuntary movements like chewing, rapid breathing or blinking. Absence seizures are usually brief (10 seconds or less) and have no period of confusion afterward.

Atonic seizures (drop attacks): In this type of seizure, the child abruptly loses consciousness and falls down. Atonic seizures do not cause convulsions, but it's possible to sustain head injuries or other injuries upon hitting the ground. Atonic seizures usually last only a few seconds.

Clonic seizures: These seizures cause loss of control of bodily functions. Various parts of the body may jerk around. The child may also temporarily lose consciousness and remain confused when the seizure ends.

Myoclonic seizures: Like clonic seizures, myoclonic seizures cause involuntary movements in different parts of the body. The child may drop or spill something, or fall down. Myoclonic seizures do not cause loss of consciousness, confusion or memory loss.

Tonic seizures: These seizures cause muscle spasms, flexion or extension of limbs, and loss of consciousness. Prolonged tonic seizures can also cause sleep problems or loss of bladder or bowel control. They are often followed by a period of confusion.

Tonic-Clonic Seizures (grand mal): These are the most severe seizures that involve the entire brain. During the tonic phase of the seizure, the child's muscles stiffen, usually causing him or her to fall down. During the tonic phase, there may be loss of bladder and bowel control, and the child may bite his or her tongue hard enough to cause bleeding. During the clonic phase, the arms and legs jerk and twitch randomly. Tonic-clonic seizures typically last one to three minutes but can be longer - a seizure lasting more than five minutes is often a life-threatening emergency. When a seizure ends, there is usually a period of confusion, fatigue and disorientation.

How birth injuries can cause epilepsy

Epilepsy is often caused by acquired brain injuries, which can occur during pregnancy, during the labor and delivery process, or shortly after birth while the baby's developing brain is vulnerable. Some common causes of epilepsy include:

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (Oxygen Deprivation) - a medical condition caused by lack of oxygen during labor and delivery. Doctors need to carefully monitor the fetal heart rate to ensure that the baby's brain is getting enough oxygen. Otherwise, brain cells may start to die.

Jaundice - If the newborn's skin or the whites of the eyes are yellowish, that can indicate an excess of the chemical bilirubin in the blood. If left untreated, this can lead to bilirubin encephalopathy and kernicterus, which causes brain damage.

Infections and Sepsis - When infections are transmitted from the mother's body to the baby's body, they need to be treated immediately. Otherwise, the infection can cause encephalitis - a swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain - which can in turn cause permanent damage.

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) - Glucose (sugar) plays a critical role in brain development because it is one of the only sources of energy the brain can use. When a baby's blood sugar drops to dangerously low levels in the first few days of life, brain injuries can result.

Birth Trauma - A traumatic injury to the baby's head can cause brain damage and epilepsy. For example, if a doctor misuses forceps during delivery, the baby's skull can fracture.

Unfortunately, many cases of epilepsy are caused by negligence on the part of medical providers. Brain damage to the baby can often be avoided or reduced in severity when doctors follow accepted standards of care. Families whose children suffer from seizures as a result of malpractice have legal rights, and a free consultation with an attorney can help you understand those rights.