Cerebral palsy and epilepsy are separate conditions that don’t cause one another but often co-occur as a result of extensive damage to the brain. In fact, about 30%-50% of children with cerebral palsy also experience epilepsy.
Not all children who experience a seizure have epilepsy. Multiple seizures must occur for an individual to be considered epileptic.
Many people mistake symptoms of cerebral palsy such as uncontrolled movements and spasms for epileptic episodes. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the difference between the two and how to manage them.
This article will go over what causes epilepsy in children with cerebral palsy and the best ways to manage it.
Causes of Epilepsy in Cerebral Palsy Patients
The high prevalence of co-occurring cerebral palsy and epilepsy is understandable because both conditions share many of the same causes.
Common causes of both epilepsy and cerebral palsy include:
- Birth defects
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Severe head trauma
- Brain infections
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 primarily due to the fact that more severe cerebral palsy is associated with greater amounts of damage to the brain.
What Does a Seizure Look Like?
Seizures are short, sudden changes in brain activity.
Depending on the type, seizures may present in various ways, including:
- Involuntary and uncontrollable limb movements
- Blank staring
- Loss of consciousness
- Temporary confusion
It’s essential to understand the appropriate actions to take when your child has a seizure. In the following section, we’ll discuss the do’s and dont’s of seizure management.
What to Do When Someone with Cerebral Palsy Has a Seizure
Even if your someone does not have epilepsy as a child, 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 wondering what to do.
Here are 5 things to do when your someone has a seizure:
- Lay the individual on their side or stomach in an open area. This will help prevent choking on saliva or vomit. Additionally, it will keep the child from falling over or hitting anything.
- Make sure the individual is breathing. Gently clear out any visible vomit or saliva buildup that can make it hard to breathe.
- Do not hold the individual down. Holding someone still while they are having a seizure will not stop the shaking. In fact, it can cause further harm.
- Do not put anything in their mouth. Giving an individual medication or water before they are fully conscious may result in choking.
- Keep track of how long the seizure lasts. If the seizure lasts over 5 minutes or if the individual remains unconscious following the seizure, seek emergency medical care.
How Individuals with Cerebral Palsy Can Manage Epilepsy
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.
Medications 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 to limit seizures 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.
Keto is 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.
The ketogenic diet is intended to be followed at all times for maximal benefit. Before making any large diet changes, be sure to consult with your child’s doctor or a dietician.
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.
Understanding the Link Between Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy: Key Points
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.