What are the Signs of Infant Seizures?

Infant seizures are caused by sudden and abnormal electrical activity in the brain.  Infant or neonatal seizures are those that occur in the first 28 days of life.  Most will occur within the first week of life, though when seizures appear varies depending on the cause.

At Birth Injury Guide, we offer readers information to help them make decisions about their health.  If you suspect your baby is having a seizure now, stop reading and call 911 now to seek emergency care.  Depending on the underlying cause of the seizure, every minute of delay can make the chances of full recovery more remote.

If you are seeking more information about infant seizures in general, we are here to help.  Read on to learn more, and if you have questions about seizures caused by malpractice or negligence, call Birth Injury Guide to learn more.

Signs and Symptoms of Infant Seizures

What makes identifying infant seizures sometimes difficult is distinguishing behavioral signs.  Some symptoms of infant seizures are similar to normal behaviors.  Behaviors like chewing motions and bicycling movements also occur in healthy newborns.

Testing is essential to confirm the diagnosis of a seizure disorder.  Newborn seizures can be very difficult to diagnose because the seizure event itself may be short and subtle, or can be easily attributed to the normal movements and behaviors of healthy babies.

The four different types of infant seizures, and the signs and symptoms associated, differ with each type.  Consider the following symptom breakdown:

Subtle Seizures  

Subtle seizures are more common among full term babies, or those who reached at least 38 weeks gestation.  The symptoms of subtle seizures include:

  • Random, roving eye movements
  • Eyelid blinking or fluttering
  • Eyes rolling up
  • Chewing movements
  • Protruding tongue
  • Bicycling or pedaling movements of the legs
  • Thrashing or struggling movements
  • Long pauses between breaths

Clonic seizures

Clonic seizures are characterized by rhythmic jerking movements in the:

  • Face
  • Tongue
  • Arms
  • Legs

Tonic Seizures

The symptoms of tonic seizures may include:

  • Stiffening or tightening of the muscles
  • Turning the head  to one side
  • Turning the eyes to one side
  • Bending or stretching one or both arms or legs

Myoclonic Seizures

Myoclonic seizures can be recognized by quick, single jerking motions that involve one arm or leg or one whole side of the body.

Outcomes and Prognosis

Both outcomes and prognosis for  infant seizures depend entirely on the type of seizure and the underlying cause.  Some babies will experience seizures that are mild and short-lived.   These types of seizures generally do not cause any long-term health problems for the baby.

Seizures that are of more pressing concern are those that are prolonged or go untreated.  These seizures can cause permanent damage by decreasing oxygen flow to the brain and causing excessive brain cell activity.

Infant seizures are frequently the visible sign of more serious underlying conditions, which may have been caused by birth injury.   Examples include:

Because of the risk of a potentially life-threatening or debilitating underlying cause, babies who experience infant seizures ought to receive rapid and specialized care.

The majority of babies who experience infant seizures will develop epilepsy later in life.   Those whose seizures reveal brain injuries or other developmental setbacks will have further complications.   These conditions are usually caused by birth injury, not by the seizure.  The seizure is the symptom that will help medical professionals to discover the birth injury and begin to treat the baby’s condition.

Causes of Infant Seizures

Neonatal seizures have many different causes, including the conditions outlined above.   Babies with low birth weight and premature babies are also more likely to suffer infant seizures.  Additional causes of seizures which may or may not indicate a birth injury include:

  • Lack of oxygen just before or during birth, caused by:
    • Difficult labor
    • Umbilical cord problems
    • Placenta injury
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: An HIE injury can cause brain damage leading to seizures.
  • Maternal infection, such as toxoplasmosis or viral encephalitis
  • Syphilis
  • Rubella
  • A stroke before or after birth
  • Head trauma resulting in a blood clot or bleeding in the brain
  • Congenital brain defects
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Drug withdrawal suffered by babies who are born addicted to barbiturates, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or methadone.

Diagnosing Infant Seizures

If parents or doctors observe the visible signs of seizure activity, the doctor will probably order an electroencephalogram (EEG) to diagnose the seizure disorder.   An EEG records the electrical activity in the brain.  If the test reveals any brain abnormalities when the baby is not seizing, the physician should be able to diagnose the type of seizure the child suffered.

Other imaging tests of the brain, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans can be used to determine the underlying cause of seizures and may reveal a birth injury.

Treating Infant Seizures

Treating seizures at any age largely depends on the cause of the seizures and the overall health of the patient.  For infant seizures, your child’s medical team may prescribe anticonvulsant medications like:

  • Phenobarbital
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Valproic acid (Depakene)
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin)

As your child grows and begins to develop, his or her physician will continue to closely monitor the progression of the seizure disorder as well as any other complications due to an associated birth injury.

Babies who suffered hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen to the brain) will likely also receive a treatment called neonatal therapeutic hypothermia to hopefully reduce any brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen.  Deprivation of oxygen at birth is a fairly common birth injury.

Hypothermia treatment involves lowering a baby’s body and brain temperature for a few days after birth, after which the medical team will gradually warm the baby’s body to a normal temperature.  This treatment can help prevent seizures from occurring, or brain damage from worsening.

Infant Seizures and Birth Injuries

Infant seizures can be very scary to watch.  Most parents report feeling helpless watching their baby twitch or roll their eyes or bicycle their legs while not knowing what to do to help them.  As long as an infant seizure is short-lived and receives treatment right away, it can be something of a blessing in disguise.

Infant seizures can be one of the first signs of an underlying birth injury.  Birth injuries that cause lifelong debilitating injuries and developmental delays benefit from treatment as soon as possible.  Obviously a newborn baby can’t use words to communicate how they are feeling or how they are hurting.  In this way, a seizure can be an important message from your baby’s body that something is wrong and they need medical care.

If your baby’s seizure disorder indicates a possible birth injury, contact Birth Injury Guide.  Let us review your situation and help you determine if a birth injury occurred.  If so, we can help you defend your child’s legal rights.  Call to request a free consultation at 1-877-415-6603.  Or, you can contact us online.

Meagan Cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.