Seizures and epilepsy factsheet


Seizures are short, sudden, uncontrolled changes in your child’s movement and behaviour when electrical impulses in the brain are interrupted. They are also known as convulsions or fits.

A seizure can cause your child to lose control of their body movements and behaviours briefly, and they may lose consciousness or pass out.

Seizures can be caused by:

  • illness
  • high fever
  • head injury
  • genetics – traits that are passed down through families.

Epilepsy is the name used for a range of conditions where a child has repeated seizures that are not caused by fever or illness.

Epilepsy is not a condition that you can catch, and many children grow out of the condition as they get older.

Seizures can be common in children. While they can be scary, it is important to remember that it is very rare for a seizure to cause brain damage or death. 

 Signs and symptoms

There are a few different types of seizures that can happen in children. How a seizure affects your child will depend on which part of their brain has been affected by the disrupted electrical activity.

Record your child’s symptoms the first time they have a seizure, and see your local doctor as soon as possible.

Generalised seizures

Generalised seizures involve the whole brain. They include:

  • absence – a brief loss of awareness that can look like your child is staring and unresponsive, sometimes with movement in the eye 
  • myoclonic – where a muscle, or group of muscles, jerk or twitch suddenly and then stop
  • clonic - where a muscle, or group of muscles, jerk or twitch quickly and repeatedly
  • tonic – where the muscles suddenly become stiff
  • tonic-clonic – a combination of tonic and clonic, where the muscles stiffen, jerk and twitch.

Tonic-clonic seizures are the most recognisable type of seizures.

In a tonic-clonic seizure, your child may become stiff, fall to the ground and start to jerk and twitch quickly. Children may bite their tongue, lose control of their bladder and bowel, or have a blue colour around their mouth during these seizures.

If you think your child is having a generalised or tonic-clonic seizure, you should stay calm, reassure them, and make sure they are not in immediate danger. 

Try to move away any objects they could hit or fall onto, place something soft under their head, and try rolling them onto their side.

Do not put anything in your child’s mouth during a seizure unless you are giving them emergency medication. If your child has food in their mouth, move their head to the side.

Try to record the time that the seizure starts and ends and what happens during the seizure.

After the seizure, encourage your child to rest and drink fluids.

Focal seizures

Focal seizures involve specific parts of the brain. 

Your child may be fully aware but have unusual feelings or movements in a particular body part. They may look like they are staring, not paying attention or daydreaming.

Focal seizures can include

  • motor – where a specific part of the body will twitch or jerk, like smacking the lips together, fiddling with clothing or grunting
  • sensory – problems with hearing, odd feelings in the body, smelling something or seeing things that are not there.

If you think your child is having a focal seizure, you should stay calm, reassure them, and make sure they are not in immediate danger.

Try to record the time that the seizure starts and ends and what happens during the seizure.


See your local doctor the first time your child has a seizure. Seizures must be checked to make sure no health issues are causing them to happen. 

If your child’s doctor is concerned about the seizure, they will refer you to a child health specialist, known as a paediatrician. They may also refer you to a brain specialist, known as a neurologist.

These specialists will:

  • check your child’s symptoms during a seizure, including any notes or recordings of them that you have made
  • check your family medical history
  • check how your child has been developing, learning, and growing so far
  • do a physical examination of your child
  • run blood tests
  • order scans of the brain, like MRI
  • order scans of brain activity, like an electroencephalogram.

Your child’s treating team will make sure there are no other causes for the seizure symptoms before working towards a diagnosis of epilepsy.


Children who only have mild seizures only occasionally may not need to take medication.

Children who have epilepsy can manage their condition with medication. Your child’s doctor will talk to you about medications for epilepsy and how long they need to be taken. Some children may need to try different medications until they find the one that works best for them.

Epilepsy medication should not be stopped suddenly. Talk to your child’s doctor if medication is not controlling the seizures, as there may be other treatments that are suitable, including diet changes or surgery in rare cases.


Avoiding danger with seizures

Most children will recover from seizures with no issues.

The biggest risk during a seizure is being in an environment that could cause serious injury or death. 

This could include:

  • being in the water, like the pool or the bath
  • falling and hitting furniture
  • doing activities that happen at great heights, like rock climbing
  • doing activities that involve speed and movement, like driving or cycling.

Take proper safety precautions, like supervising your child while swimming and having them wear safety equipment during physical activity. Speak to your child’s doctor if you have concerns about managing activities with seizures.

You can also develop an epilepsy management plan for school or daycare. This helps your child’s carers to know the signs of a seizure and respond quickly and safely.

When to seek help

Call an ambulance on triple zero (000) if: 

  • you are concerned about your child while they are having a seizure
  • it is your child’s first seizure
  • the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • the seizure happens in water, and your child has trouble breathing
  • your child has an injury after the seizure
  • your child may have inhaled liquid or food during the seizure
  • your child’s breathing doesn’t return to normal shortly after the seizure 
  • your child remains blue around the lips
  • you are unsure if your child is recovering normally.
Last updated Tuesday 30th January 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024