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Treating children with epilepsy

These pages are about children with epilepsy in the UK. If you are looking for information about children with epilepsy in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.

How will my child's epilepsy be treated?

You have probably already talked with your child’s doctors about how their seizures should be treated. The most common way is with epilepsy medicines. These are introduced slowly, and gradually increased until they get to the right level. They are taken every day.

Daily epilepsy medicines

It can be worrying when you are told your child needs to take epilepsy medicines every day, sometimes for several years. And some parents, when they see the list of possible side-effects would rather their child didn’t take them. But for most children, the benefits of taking epilepsy medicines are greater than the possible side-effects from the medicine. This is because some seizures can be unpleasant and can cause injury. And some children feel embarrassed about having seizures, especially in front of their friends, so prefer to try the medicines instead.  

There is a range of different epilepsy medicines available to treat children. The one your child is given will depend on:

  • Their age and sex
  • The type of seizures or syndrome they have
  • Whether they have any other medical conditions

Sometimes, if one epilepsy medicine doesn’t control a child’s seizures, another might be added. Or the first medicine may be swapped over to a different one. This will take some time to do. But with the right dose of the right medicine, around 7 in every 10 people with epilepsy can have their seizures controlled.

My child has been given a different epilepsy medicine for seizures that last a long time. Why is that?

Many children have seizures that last for less than 5 minutes and stop without any treatment. But some children have seizures that last longer than 5 minutes. Seizures that last longer than 30 minutes or a cluster of shorter seizures that last for 30 minutes or more can cause damage to the brain, or even death. In both cases, this is known as status epilepticus. Seizures lasting for more than 5 minutes need treating before they turn into status epilepticus.

The 2 most commonly used medicines to prevent status epilepticus are midazolam and diazepam. Midazolam is given by a dropper, inside the child’s cheek or nose. This can be given by anyone who has been trained to do it, as well as healthcare professionals. If diazepam is given by a medical professional, they will usually give it by injection. But it can be given by non-healthcare professionals with the right training. In this instance it will usually be given rectally (into the back passage).

If your child has been prescribed emergency medicines to stop their seizures, the doctor who prescribes the drug should write a care plan. This will show exactly when and how much emergency medicine needs to be given.

How often should my child have a review?

To make sure your child is still on the best treatment for their epilepsy, they should have a review of their epilepsy and treatment at least once a year. This is particularly important when being transferred from children’s to adult services, as their treatment may be different from when they were younger.

Are there any other ways of treating epilepsy?

In the UK, if your child’s epilepsy is difficult to control, they may be considered for epilepsy brain surgery. This is done by very specialist surgeons at one of four Children’s Epilepsy Surgery Service (CESS) centres. Before surgery is considered, your child will have to go through a very thorough assessment. And only once it has been decided that surgery could reduce, or stop their seizures, without causing any other problems, would it become an option.

If surgery isn’t possible for your child, the doctor may discuss the possibility of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) or the ketogenic diet.

VNS therapy involves a small electrical device, like a pacemaker, which is implanted under the skin of your child’s chest. The device sends electrical impulses to their brain through a nerve in their neck called the vagus nerve. The aim is to reduce the number of seizures they have and make them less severe.

The ketogenic or modified diets are higher in fats and lower in carbohydrates than a typical diet. If none of the other treatment has stopped or reduced your child’s seizures, they may be offered a trial of one of these diets.

George has an epilepsy syndrome and uses the ketogenic diet. Read George's story.

Information with references

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Children and epilepsy.

Code: 
B002.04

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Amanda Freeman, consultant paediatrician at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, UK for her contribution to this information.

Dr Amanda Freeman has no conflict of interest to declare.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated September 2016
    To be reviewed September 2019

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