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This information aims to answer your questions about epilepsy:
what it is, why it is associated with hemiplegia and how it might
Epilepsy is the tendency to have repeated epileptic seizures. An
epileptic seizure is an event that causes a change in a person's
awareness of where they are or what they are doing, their behaviour
or their feelings. What happens during a seizure depends on where
in the brain the disrupted activity is and how much of their brain
Epileptic seizures happen when the way the brain normally works
is temporarily disrupted (when the messages the brain sends to
communicate with the rest of the body become disorganised). This
disrupted activity can last from a couple of seconds to a few
minutes and can make the person's body do things they wouldn't
Many people (about one in 30) will have an epileptic seizure
some time in their lives. But having one seizure does not mean you
have epilepsy. Epilepsy is the tendency to have repeated seizures
and so is usually only diagnosed after two or more seizures.
Nevertheless it is a common condition, affecting 1 in every 131
There are many types of seizures but we can divide them into two
groups - generalised and focal (or partial) seizures.
In generalised seizures the whole of the brain is affected by
the seizure. The person becomes unconscious and will not remember
the seizure. Examples of these seizures include:
In focal seizures the seizure affects just part of the brain and
the person may not lose consciousness, although they might become
quite confused. What happens depends on where in the brain the
seizure happens, and what this part of the brain normally does.
For example, the person may get a strange taste in their mouth
or a sudden feeling of fear; they may get pins and needles in part
of their body; they may become very confused, or make strange
movements with their arms or legs; or they may make strange noises
or lip-smacking or chewing movements with their mouth. The
behaviour depends on which part of the brain is affected.
Both hemiplegia and epilepsy are neurological conditions. There
are many causes of epilepsy, but when someone with hemiplegia has
epilepsy it is usually because a specific area of the brain has
been injured, and this injury causes the epilepsy. In most cases,
but not all, this will cause focal seizures that start and affect
only that part of the brain. If the epileptic activity spreads to
other parts of the brain a generalised seizure happens.
About one in five (20%) of children with hemiplegia also have
epilepsy. In most cases the epilepsy starts before the age of five.
The chances of a child developing a new case of epilepsy seem to
decrease as they get older, particularly after the age of ten.
It can be very frightening when your child has a seizure but
there are a few points to try and bear in mind.
Call 999 if:
If you don't call an ambulance because the seizure doesn't last
long you will still need to tell your GP that it's happened.
A seizure is a very stressful event to witness and it can be
very hard to remember details of what has happened. Although it may
feel like a difficult thing to do, recording a seizure on your
smart phone or camera can be extremely helpful to doctors while
diagnosing epilepsy. Having a proper record of what has happened
will also help you feel more confident when explaining to doctors
what a seizure looks like.
Here are some tips:
If it is difficult to get a recording, the following questions
may be useful:
This list is not exhaustive. The more detail you can provide the
better. Depending on your child's age they can also explain how
they feel before and after; their account will also be important in
getting a diagnosis.
Getting a diagnosis is not always easy as there is no single
test that can diagnose epilepsy. If it is possible that your child
might have epilepsy, NICE (the National Institute for Health and
Care Excellence) recommends that you are referred to a specialist
paediatrician (with training in diagnosing and treating children)
within two weeks.
Doctors will base their diagnosis on medical history, symptoms
and, most importantly, eye witness accounts of what happens before,
during and after the seizures. This is why the video can be
If necessary, your doctor may do some more tests to get extra
information or to rule out other causes. These may include:
In 70% of cases epilepsy is treated by antiepileptic drugs
(AEDs). These drugs cannot cure epilepsy, but they work on the
brain to try and stop seizures from happening. Which particular AED
is used depends on the type of seizures your child has because some
AEDs work better for certain seizures. It's also important to get
the dosage right, and this can be a long process.
If your child's epilepsy doesn't respond to AEDs and they
continue to have seizures, there are other treatment options:
The Epilepsy Society has more detailed information on the
various treatments available: www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/treatment
Both hemiplegia and epilepsy affect people in different ways and
to different degrees. Your healthcare team will be able to answer
any questions you have and should provide you with all the
information you need about diagnosis, tests and treatment. There
are a number of organisations who can provide epilepsy specific
information, including advice about safety, first aid, education,
memory problems and travel.
0808 800 5050
01494 601400 (helpline)
0808 800 2200