Family Health Guide

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First Aid: Seizures

About 2 to 5 percent of children will have one before they're 3 years old. More kids, though, have what looks like a seizure but isn't. If your child isn't sick, and seems fine before and after the incident, it may not be a seizure, Here's how to tell:

Febrile seizure

What it looks like: Your infant or child develops a fever, then twitches, jerks, and stiffens. About three to five percent of kids will have one by age 5.  It is most common in kids between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.

What to do: During a febrile seizure, it's best to lie the child on his side on a safe surface, like the floor (this is better than holding him). Don't put anything in his mouth, stay calm, and let the seizure pass. If it goes on for longer than ten minutes, call 911; sometimes medications are necessary to stop it. Even if it's brief, you should always call your doctor after your child has one.

The risk of having another is about one in three, with the chances increasing when the first seizure occurs before 15 months, if there's a family history of them, or when the fever associated with the seizure is low. They're difficult to prevent because they often occur as the fever first rises, before the parent even realizes the child is sick. Even so, treating any fevers with acetaminophen or ibuprofen (not to be given to children under six months of age) for the first day or two of illness may be helpful. Check with your pediatrician regarding dosage, and never give them the medicine more frequently than directed.

Febrile seizures can certainly be scary, but they don't cause brain damage. They usually disappear by age 5 or 6, sometimes earlier. When kids go a year or more without one and have had at least a couple of fevers during that time, they're probably home free.

Epileptic seizure

What it looks like: Your child suddenly becomes unresponsive and might move his eyes, face, or body uncontrollably. Afterward, he's sleepy or weak. These occur in only about 1 percent of children (the risk increases for developmentally delayed children).

What to do: Don't restrain him or put anything in his mouth. Call the doctor immediately, and time the seizure so you can report it.

Benign infant shuddering

What it looks like: Your infant shakes his head back and forth rapidly; it's actually a reflex often triggered by happiness.

What to do: Mention it to your pediatrician, just to make sure that's what it is.

Benign sleep myoclonus

What it looks like: Your infant or young child twitches a few times as he falls asleep. This disorder that usually goes away on its own by the time a child is 3 years old.

What to do: Gently wake your infant to stop the movements. Mention it to your pediatrician, just to be safe.

Breath-holding spell

What it looks like: Your child gets upset and holds his breath. He might turn blue, stiffen, or pass out, but he's fine in less than a minute. This is an involuntary reaction to anger, fear or pain. These spells can begin in infancy and usually stop around age 5.

What to do: Call 911 if your child turns blue and you're not sure why. These episodes are usually harmless, but tell your doctor.