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Why Do Children With Cerebral Palsy Commonly Have Seizures?

Although seizures are often attributed to epilepsy, children with cerebral palsy (CP) also can have seizures apart from epilepsy. Although CP and epilepsy can co-exist, in fact 25% to 35% of all children with CP also have epilepsy, seizures can be also attributed to the CP itself. The seizures can be displayed in two main forms, including tonic-clonic (grand mal) and partial seizures.

What Causes CP Seizures?

Abnormal nerve impulses caused by the brain injury causes seizures in children with CP. Depending on where in the brain that these abnormal or excessive nerve impulses occur, the seizures may display in a variety of ways. They can be witnessed as staring episodes, involuntary movements in the eyes, arms or legs, or as full body spasms that are associated with grand mal seizures. If the seizures become common or occur regularly, the child may be diagnosed with epilepsy or another type of seizure disorder

Types of Seizures

There are two main forms of seizure in children with CP, although many others are possible.

  • Tonic-Clonic or Grand Mal. These are full body seizures and are common in CP. They involve extreme and violent muscle movement and are very severe. In these types of seizures, the child can easily hurt themselves as their body thrashes involuntarily.
  • Partial or Complex seizures. Partial seizures are restricted to one side of the brain and usually are restricted to one side of the body. Complex seizures are the smaller, repetitive seizures such as lip smacking, blinking or staring.

Diagnosing a Seizure Disorder or Epilepsy

If a child with CP is having seizures, or it is suspected they are having seizures, they should be brought to their physician for an EEG exam. EEG can detect some types of seizures but not all. The doctor may also want to do a CAT scan or MRI if the EEG does not show signs of seizure activity.

Some seizures can only be diagnosed by observation. The partial seizures such as lip smacking, staring or eye blinking should be documented and video taped if possible when they happen. The sooner seizures can be truly diagnosed the sooner medications can be used to help reduce them.

For a child with CP, seizures can be yet another symptom that affects their quality of life. Learning how to diagnose, treat and handle seizures can make the child’s life easier, less painful and more enjoyable.


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