Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common seizure disorder affecting up to one in 100 people. The neurology clinic at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Network sees a large number of epilepsy patients, giving us the experience needed to effectively diagnose and treat this disorder.

Why Choose Us for Epilepsy Treatment?

Many parents in the region choose Mary Bridge for epilepsy diagnosis and treatment because we offer:

  • Convenient testing: We have several testing locations in Tacoma and Olympia, including outpatient testing facilities. Find  our locations.
  • Expert care: Our neurology specialists have years of expertise treating a wide variety of epilepsy types. For children needing surgery, our hospital has experienced pediatric neurosurgeons who are sensitive to the unique challenges of operating on children.
  • Personalized support: We work with multiple specialists to meet your child’s needs, making families the center of everything we do. Our nurse navigators and social workers are here to help you at every step in the process. Find out more about our  support services.

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a family of disorders that causes seizures due to misfiring nerve cells in the brain. It is one of the most common brain disorders, affecting more than 5 million people across the country.

For many patients, epilepsy has no known cause. For others, a variety of brain conditions can cause epilepsy, including:

  • Down syndrome and other inherited disorders
  • Brain developmental irregularities
  • Other developmental disabilities, such as autism
  • Head injury
  • Brain injury as a newborn
  • Stroke or loss of oxygen to the brain
  • Brain tumor or infection

Types of Seizures We Treat

Our pediatric neurology specialists treat many types of seizures, including:

  • Generalized tonic-clonic seizures that cause a child to lose consciousness before falling to the ground with muscle spasms. Also called a grand mal seizure, this type of seizure typically makes children feel tired afterwards.
  • Generalized absence seizures that can cause fast blinking or just staring into space
  • Myoclonic seizures marked by rapid jerking movements
  • Simple partial seizures that start in a single area of the brain. This type of focal seizure does not cause unconsciousness.
  • Complex partial seizures that start in a single area of the brain. This type of focal seizure causes unconsciousness.
  • Benign Rolandic epilepsy or benign epilepsy with centrotemporal spikes (BECTS), which causes seizures that children usually outgrow
  • Infantile spasms, a severe form of epilepsy that affects a baby’s development

We also treat severe epilepsy syndromes that are resistant to medication, including:

  • Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which causes multiple types of seizures as well as intellectual disability
  • Dravet syndrome or severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy (SMEI), which can cause episodes of continuous seizure that require emergency care
  • Doose syndrome or myoclonic astatic epilepsy (MAE), a disorder that causes drop seizures and staring seizures

Diagnosing Epilepsy in Children

We use the latest technology to diagnose epilepsy in children, with several convenient testing locations in the Tacoma area. Parents can get test results in as little as one week, sometimes even faster if you use the online MyChart system.

Our pediatric neurologists diagnose epilepsy with tests that include:

  • EEG (electroencephalogram): This is the most common method of diagnosing epilepsy. An EEG measures brain activity using small electrodes (discs) placed on the scalp. We offer both inpatient and outpatient EEG testing, as well as ambulatory or in-home EEG to make extended testing more comfortable for your child. Outpatient EEG takes 1 to 2 hours, while inpatient EEG can last 24 to 96 hours. For children needing prolonged outpatient EEG monitoring, we will provide equipment your child can wear at home.
  • CT (computerized tomography) scan: This procedure combines X-rays with computer technology to create detailed brain images. During the scan, your child will need to lie on a small table that slides through a large donut-shaped machine. A CT scan takes about 30 minutes.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This type of scan uses radio waves and powerful magnets to create detailed brain images. For an MRI, your child will lie on a small table that slides into a tunnel-shaped machine. An MRI takes approximately 40 minutes, possibly longer when a child requires sedation. We have technology available so your child can watch a movie during the MRI.

We have child life specialists available to explain procedures in child-friendly language, and a sedation services team to help your child be comfortable during any tests. Learn more about  diagnosis and testing.

Epilepsy Treatment at Mary Bridge

Treatment can help control and minimize seizures for most people. Some children may even grow out of epilepsy. Depending on the type of epilepsy, treatment options may include:

  • Medication: Anti-seizure medication is the most common treatment for epilepsy. Dozens of these medications exist. Our specialists will work with you to find the most effective one for your child.
  • Surgery: In some children, anti-seizure drugs may stop working over time. Some of these children may benefit from surgery, including vagus nerve stimulator device implantation. This device sends electrical signals to the brain through the vagus nerve in the lower neck, often reducing seizures and lowering the required medication dosages.
  • Diet: Some children respond well to specialized diets like the ketogenic or modified Atkins diets, which are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. In these cases, we work with dietitians to create a personalized diet that meets your child’s needs.

Find out more about epilepsy services at Mary Bridge.

Epilepsy Support Services

We offer a range of services to make epilepsy diagnosis and treatment easier on your family, including:

  • Child life specialists: We know diagnosis and treatment can be frightening for children. Our child life specialists help explain procedures in child-friendly language and provide distraction during difficult procedures.
  • Personal health partners (PHPs): PHP teams include a nurse and a social worker to coordinate care with various specialists, answer questions and assist with school accommodations. We can also provide guidance to help your child successfully transition to adult treatment.
  • Complex care team: We offer specialized care coordination for children with life-threatening or chronic illness. Learn more about the complex care team.
  • Support group: We offer a support group for children and families with epilepsy.

Learn more about our support services.

Seizure First Aid

If your child is having a seizure, you can take several steps to help him or her avoid injury:

  • Ease your child to the floor, turning the child over on one side and clearing the area of hard or sharp objects.
  • Place something soft and flat beneath your child’s head.
  • Remove your child’s glasses and anything that may restrict breathing.
  • Administer any prescribed rescue medicine for seizures such as Versed® (midazolam) nasal spray.

You should call 911 if your child:

  • Has a seizure lasting more than five minutes
  • Experiences more than one seizure in a short span of time
  • Is hurt by the seizure
  • Has a seizure while in the water

Online tools such as seizuretracker.com can help you track your child’s seizure activity, appointments and medication dosages.

Contact Us

Call us at 253-792-6630 to make an appointment with one of our specialists.