Epilepsy (Seizures)

Epilepsy often occurs in children and adults with white matter disorders. Although these people have a higher chance of being treatment resistant than those who do not have a degenerative disease, there are a number of helpful treatment strategies that can be used to ameliorate the seizures- or even control them completely.

Seizures are a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain, causing changes in behaviour, movement, feelings and/or consciousness. Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurrent seizures.

A typical seizure lasts between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. If a seizure lasts over 5 minutes, it should be treated as a medical emergency. Emergency medical treatment should also be sought in the case of injury caused by falls while having a seizure; pregnant or diabetic people having a seizure; lack of return to consciousness / breathing after the seizure or if the seizure is immediately followed by another. High fevers and heat exhaustion around seizures should also result in medical advice being sought. See our care page for more information on the additional help you can receive to help to care for people who have recurrent seizures.

Different types of seizures are:

  • Focal seizures – caused by electrical activity in one area of the brain, these may or may not involve a loss of awareness or consciousness.
  • Generalised seizures – in which electrical activity has occurred in all areas of the brain. There are several types of generalised seizures:
  • Absence
  • Tonic
  • Atonic or Drop seizures, causing loss of muscle control which may cause a sudden fall
  • Clonic seizures, usually affecting the neck, face and arms and associated with repeated jerking muscle movements
  • Myoclonic
  • Tonic-Clonic

It can be difficult to recognise seizures in infants, as this may look very different to an adult seizure. The most common kind of seizure in infants is a febrile seizure, in which the infant’s limbs stiffen or twitch and their eyes roll. This is often caused by fever. Infants may also experience the types of seizure above.

Treatment for epilepsy can vary, from simply identifying and avoiding triggers to seizures, to surgery to remove the part of the brain which causes this activity. Anti-Epileptic Drugs (AEDs) are the most common treatment, and drug choice tends to target the type of seizure the child is having. As drug resistance is common in children with white-matter disorders it’s important to consider other treatment interventions.

The ketogenic diet may be recommended. High in fat, low in carbohydrate and with carefully controlled protein levels, this diet has been shown to have positive effects in adults and children with epilepsy. Its effectiveness in infants is being investigated. This method is used if other treatment for epilepsy proves ineffective, and should not be pursued without advice from dieticians and specialists.

Insertion of a small electrical device to stimulate nerves is another option, normally as a VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulation) device, similar to a pacemaker.

The use of alternative therapies to ease symptoms of epilepsy is not scientifically proven, and you should not stop taking medication or other treatments without consulting a specialist. For those who find their seizures are triggered by stress, relaxation exercises such as yoga and meditation may provide some relief.

For more general information on epilepsy, including triggers and symptoms, see the Epilepsy Action website.