Cerebral palsy and epilepsy are separate conditions that don’t cause one another but do occur commonly as a result of brain damage.
Roughly 30%-50% of children with cerebral palsy will also experience epilepsy.
If your child experiences a seizure, don’t jump to conclusions and assume that they have epilepsy.
Multiple seizures must occur for your child to have epilepsy.
This article will go over what causes epilepsy in children with cerebral palsy and the best ways to manage it.
Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy
It’s important to keep in mind that cerebral palsy is a motor disorder and can cause your child’s muscles to be very stiff.
Extremely stiff muscles can cause uncontrolled movements and spasms, so don’t make the mistake of confusing your child’s motor impairment for a seizure.
Epilepsy is more common in certain types of cerebral palsy than in others.
Those that have quadriplegia (motor impairment on all four limbs) have the highest incidence of seizures.
This is because for all four limbs to be affected, a greater area of the brain is damaged (which increases the chances of epilepsy).
Causes of Epilepsy in Cerebral Palsy Patients
The high prevalence of cerebral palsy and epilepsy co-occurring is understandable because they share so many of the same causes.
Common causes of epilepsy and cerebral palsy include:
- Birth defects
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Severe head trauma
- Brain infections
What to Do When Your Child with Cerebral Palsy Has a Seizure
Even if your child does not have epilepsy, they can develop it as they get older.
Many parents don’t know what to do when their child has a seizure and panic. Being prepared will help keep your child safe and prevent wasting time.
Here are 5 things to do when your child has a seizure:
- Lay your child down on their side or stomach. This will help prevent choking on saliva.
- Make sure your child is breathing. Gently clear out any vomit or saliva buildup that can make it hard to breathe.
- Do not hold your child down. Holding your child still will not stop the shaking. You might even cause further harm.
- Do not put anything in their mouth. Giving your child medication or water before they are fully conscious may result in choking.
- Keep track of how long the seizure lasts. If it continues past 5 minutes or if your child remains unconscious, get emergency medical care.
Managing Epilepsy with Cerebral Palsy
While there are no definitive cures for epilepsy, there are medications and dietary changes that can help reduce the occurrence and severity of them.
If your child has epilepsy, their doctor will most likely prescribe anticonvulsants to help manage their seizures.
They won’t treat the underlying brain damage that is causing the seizure. Instead, they will help reduce the severity, frequency, and length of seizures.
Side effects of anticonvulsants include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
A more natural option is to adopt a ketogenic diet.
This diet seems to be all the rage right now, but it has been used to help manage epilepsy since the 1920s.
Essentially, it’s a high fat, low carb diet that promotes the production of chemicals called ketones.
It’s suggested that ketones have antiepileptic properties that prevent seizures by altering neuronal activity.
However, the diet is restrictive and many children don’t have a palate for it. This makes it difficult to carry out in the long-term.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
A vagus nerve stimulator is a device that is surgically implanted near the chest that delivers electrical signals to the brain via the vagus nerve.
The exact mechanisms of how vagus nerve stimulation works is still unclear, but the electrical signals have demonstrated the ability to reduce the occurrence of seizures in people with epilepsy by altering neuron activity in the brain.
Vagus nerve stimulation is approved for children 4 and older, so younger children will need to seek other options.
There are a variety of surgeries for reducing or altogether getting rid of epilepsy in cerebral palsy patients.
Surgeries for epilepsy typically involve removing the damaged part of the brain that is causing the seizures.
However, surgery should only be considered when all other options fail to manage seizures.
It is the most dangerous treatment for epilepsy and may put your child at risk for infection, stroke, paralysis, and other motor dysfunctions.
That’s a Wrap!
Cerebral palsy and epilepsy are not directly related, but they do co-occur often enough that parents should be aware of what to expect if seizures happen.
Children with greater motor impairments are more likely to have epilepsy; however, anyone can experience seizures.
Now that you know what to expect and how to go about treatments for epilepsy, you’ll be much better prepared if a seizure occurs.
Remember, epilepsy is absolutely manageable and doesn’t have to interfere with the quality of your child’s life.