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Seizures, Epilepsy and Pennsylvania Birth Injury

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders experienced by both children and adults nationwide. People with epilepsy have occasional moments of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which causes episodes called seizures.

Most cases of epilepsy are caused by damage to the brain. Brain damage can occur at any time in life - for example, in a car accident, a slip and fall, or due to a disease that impacts the brain - but the developing brain of a fetus or newborn baby is especially vulnerable. That means some babies are born with epilepsy, or develop it shortly after birth, and the family needs to think about a lifetime of care.

Types of seizures

When most people hear the word "seizure," they think of convulsions and erratic movements. The truth is that there are many types of seizures, including:

  • Absence seizures (petit mal): a brief loss of consciousness (usually 10 seconds or less) with no convulsions or other symptoms. People who experience absence seizures may not even be aware they have them.
  • Atonic seizures (drop attacks): the child abruptly lose consciousness and falls. There are no convulsions or other direct symptoms, but the fall can cause injury.
  • Clonic seizures: the child temporarily loses control of bodily functions and experiences jerking movements. There is also a temporary loss of consciousness.
  • Myoclonic seizures: the child experiences involuntary movements but no loss of consciousness.
  • Tonic seizures: the child experiences muscle spasms, flexion of limbs and brief loss of consciousness, often followed by a period of confusion.
  • Tonic-Clonic Seizures (grand mal): these are the most severe type of seizures with abnormal electrical activity that impacts the whole brain. The child falls to the ground and experiences spasms and involuntary movements. These seizures also can cause loss of bladder and bowel control, and they are usually followed by a period of confusion and fatigue.

Seizures often co-occur with cerebral palsy (CP). Children with both CP and epilepsy often experience longer-lasting, more severe seizures that can be difficult to manage.

Treatment for epilepsy

There is no cure for brain damage, and that means there is no cure for epilepsy. Likewise, epilepsy doesn't get better or worse over time, although the seizures may change in severity throughout life. It can be managed with proper treatment.

Most people with epilepsy are treated with anti-seizure drugs, sometimes called anti-epileptic drugs (AED). Different patients respond to different types of drugs, so finding the right drug - or, often, the right combination of drugs - can take time.

Other types of treatments that are sometimes prescribed alongside medication include dietary therapy and medical devices. In a few cases, children with epilepsy require surgical intervention.

How medical negligence can cause epilepsy

Again, the brain is at its most vulnerable when it is in development. Medical professionals have a responsibility during prenatal care, birth and neonatal care to monitor the baby's brain and intervene appropriately at the first sign of trouble. Some common causes of neonatal brain damage include:

  • Lack of oxygen to the brain, which causes brain cells to die.
  • Untreated jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia), which builds up a toxic chemical in the baby's blood that can spread to the brain.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia); the developing brain needs sugar as fuel.
  • Untreated infections, which can cause the lining of the brain to swell (meningitis) and cause permanent damage.
  • Traumatic injuries to the head, for instance due to misuse of forceps during delivery.

Doctors, labor and delivery nurses, and other medical professionals are trained to diagnose and treat these conditions. Many cases of epilepsy can be prevented entirely. In addition, interventions such as head cooling and whole-body cooling can reduce the amount of brain damage done, which may reduce the frequency and severity of future seizures.

Parents of children diagnosed with epilepsy due to preventable causes have legal recourse under Pennsylvania law. If you believe malpractice was the cause of your child's seizures, you need to schedule a free consultation. If you need an attorney for your Pennsylvania birth injury, Help For Your Baby's birth injury experts will review your situation and, if necessary, put you in touch with one.