Seizures in infants can be much more difficult to identify than those suffered by adults. The convulsions most commonly associated with seizures are rare in infancy. But early detection is critical. During this period of rapid brain development, a seizure can inflict trauma that can stunt a child’s cognitive growth, lead to learning impairments, cause permanent brain damage, and ultimately slow overall development. In rare cases, a seizure can be fatal to a young child.
Read on to learn how to identify seizures in babies. If you suspect your child may have suffered a seizure, speak to a physician promptly. If possible, try to record a video of your infant exhibiting seizure symptoms. Time the length of the seizure and note in which part of the body it began and ended. Write down any triggers or irregular circumstances that may have contributed to the seizure’s onset. It’s likely that your doctor will refer you to a specialist like a pediatric neurologist who can fully assess the cause of your child’s symptoms.
What Causes Seizures in Infants?
A seizure happens when abnormal electrical activity occurs between brain cells. An overabundance of firing cells temporarily disrupts the normal flow of signals and messages. There are varying causes of infanthood seizures and neonatal seizures (those occurring within the first 28 days after birth).
Testing and observation need to be conducted in order to fully assess the type and cause of your baby’s seizures. Since infanthood and neonatal seizures tend to mimic other conditions, it’s important that your baby be placed under the expert attention of a highly-experienced physician. Some of the more common causes of seizures in babies include:
- Congenital conditions (conditions a child is born with)
- Birth trauma and birth injuries
- Brain disorders
- Some medications
- An illness that occurred during pregnancy
- Brain tumors
- Maternal drug or alcohol use
Not all seizures point to a serious condition. In fact, the cause of many seizures is never fully determined. However, in other cases, your treating physician will be able to diagnose a clear cause through testing that includes blood tests, EEG, brain imaging tests, or a lumbar puncture. Testing may reveal an underlying cause such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or hydrocephalus that develops due to an injury during the birthing process.
How Do You Know if a Baby Is Having a Seizure?
Seizure symptoms in a baby can be subtle, and sometimes resemble behaviors considered typical in infants. Additionally, these seizures don’t usually last long. If you observe one or more of the symptoms listed below, continue to monitor your child closely. There is a strong likelihood that what you noticed will be repeated. Call 911 if a child is struggling to breathe or displaying noticeable symptoms that last more than five minutes. Reach out to your doctor immediately if you find recurring or atypical instances of:
- Pauses in movement accompanied by staring at a fixed point
- A sudden glazed look in the eyes or rapid eye blinking
- Rhythmic, jerky movements of the arms and legs
- Body stiffening, with tightening and tensing movements
- Staring off to the side without moving
- Protruding tongue
- Sudden loss of consciousness
- A sustained cycling motion of the legs
- A period in which there is no response to sounds or other stimuli
- Abnormal breathing patterns
- Clusters of subtle spasms stretched across several minutes, which could include eyes turned upwards, stiffened neck, raised arms, or repeated head nods
Types of Seizures in Babies
While many people think of a seizure as a single condition, there are actually multiple types of seizures. The seizures most common among young infants in the first year of life can manifest in a variety of symptoms, and most of them look much different from a seizure an older child or adult might experience.
The symptoms you observe in your baby may be indicative of:
Generalized seizures are ones that affect both sides of the brain. They can be further classified into categories of seizures such as tonic seizures (those involving muscle stiffness), clonic seizures (those involving jerky movements), atonic seizures (those involving muscle limpness), and myoclonic seizures (those involving brief spasms in a muscle or muscle group). Some, but not all, generalized seizures are accompanied by loss of consciousness.
Focal seizures are also referred to as “partial seizures” because they only take place in one part of the brain. Because symptoms will vary depending on the area of the brain affected, not all focal seizures look the same. Your doctor will be able to determine which brain region is the center of the aberrant activity by observing symptoms and conducting tests.
Febrile seizures are brought on by a high fever or body temperature. They are most common among children aged six months to five years. Symptoms of a febrile seizure most often include shaking, twitching, eye rolling, and loss of consciousness.
Infantile spasms (IS) are a form of epilepsy that generally emerges when the child is between two and 12 months of age. Each myoclonic seizure can last as little as one to two seconds, and seizures typically occur grouped in series. Symptoms characteristic of IS seizure clusters involve stiffening, eye rolling, and squeezing the belly area at five to ten-second intervals. They are most common after the baby awakes from sleep.
What To Do if Your Infant’s Seizures Were Caused by a Birth Injury
Shrager & Sachs is a personal injury law firm in Philadelphia that specializes in complex medical malpractice cases, including birth injuries. If you learn that your baby’s seizures are being caused by a medical error made during labor or delivery, we may be able to help you hold a health care institution accountable.
Families of infants harmed by a preventable birth injury have the option to take legal action against the party whose negligence left lasting damage to a child’s life. Not all seizures are caused by medical negligence. But if your treating physician traces the source of your infant’s seizures to an error made by a doctor or nurse during the delivery process, your family has the legal right to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. This is often the best way to ensure you can afford the best medical care your child needs and deserves.
Contact our Philadelphia office to learn more. We will begin by scheduling a free case evaluation with one of our medical malpractice attorneys. There is never a charge for an initial consultation to explore options for recovery with a qualified lawyer.