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Types and Causes of Pediatric Epilepsy

There are many potential underlying causes of epileptic seizures in children. Depending on the cause, epilepsy is generally categorized as one of three types:

  • Primary epilepsy (idiopathic)
  • Secondary epilepsy (symptomatic)
  • Cryptogenic epilepsy

Primary epilepsy, also called idiopathic epilepsy, is a genetic condition. A child’s risk of epilepsy increases if a parent or sibling has epilepsy.

Secondary epilepsy, also called symptomatic epilepsy, may develop as a result of brain damage caused by illness, injury or trauma. The difference between symptomatic seizures and provoked seizures is that symptomatic seizures continue to recur after the initial illness, injury or trauma happens. Some of the most common causes of secondary epilepsy are:

  • Birth trauma, meaning brain damage caused by lack of oxygen, poor nutrition or maternal infection (neonatal seizures)
  • Brain tumors
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain and brain abnormalities
  • Congenital disorders and genetic abnormalities, such as tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis (NF, NF1, and NF2)
  • Developmental disorders, such as autism
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Fever (febrile seizures)
  • Head injuries
  • Infectious diseases, such as meningitis, HIV/AIDS or viral encephalitis
  • Stroke or neurovascular malformations

In some cases, doctors cannot determine exactly what causes a child's epilepsy. This is called cryptogenic epilepsy.

Pediatric Epilepsy Syndromes

When certain combinations of signs and symptoms regularly occur together, this is referred to as an epileptic syndrome. In addition to symptoms, this grouping of factors may include your child's age at onset, type of seizure, information gathered from the medical assessment and diagnostic tests, as well as a broad range of specific details about your child's seizure activity. Classifying epilepsy in this way helps doctors understand and manage the condition better. Some of the many epilepsy syndromes that may occur in children and adolescents are:

  • Benign rolandic epilepsy (BRE)
  • Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME)
  • Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS)
  • Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (SGS)
  • Myoclonic astatic epilepsy (MAE), also called Doose syndrome
  • Rasmussen's syndrome, also called Rasmussen's encephalitis
  • West syndrome (infantile spasms)