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Epilepsy - having 'fits'

Epilepsy; seizure; fit; infection; brain; power surge; petit mal; grand mal; convulsion; absence; disability; first aid ;


What is epilepsy?

epilepsySometimes people can have seizures, (many people would call them 'fits') because they have a high fever or have had a head injury. Another name for a seizure is a convulsion (say con-vul-shun).

Epilepsy is when children have seizures when there is no fever or injury, and they have more seizures as they get older. Sometimes epilepsy begins when the person is teenager or adult.

Most times doctors cannot find out what causes epilepsy but sometimes it can be because of a severe head injury, a brain infection, a brain tumour or maybe there were problems before the person was born.

Sometimes other people in the family have epilepsy too.

What happens?

A seizure happens when there is a sudden 'power surge' of the electrical activity in the brain.

There are many different types of seizures but the most common ones are:

  • epilepsyAbsence seizures - sometimes called 'petit mal' (say p-tee mal). Petit mal are the French words for 'small bad'.
    The person suddenly stops moving or talking and looks blank (or 'absent') for a short time, then goes on with whatever he or she was doing before.

    This type of seizure usually only lasts for seconds but this can happen many times a day. The person does not know that he or she has just had a seizure.
  • epilepsyGeneralised tonic-clonic seizures (sometimes called 'grand mal'). Grand mal are the French words for 'big bad.'
    The person goes unconscious, eyes roll back and then the body goes stiff, relaxes and goes stiff again several times. The person may stop breathing for a short time and their lips may look blue.
    Sometimes the person may do a wee as bladder control is lost.
    Afterwards the person will usually sleep for a while. 
    This type of seizure can be very scary for people who are around the person, because they do not know how to help the person and because they think that the person might get harmed.
  • A focal dyscognitive (dis-cog-nit-iv) seizure looks like someone is confused or asleep with their eyes open. They may make stange sounds or say the same thing over and over again. After a few minutes the person carries on normally but may be a bit confused for a while.

How to help your friend

Iepilepsyf your friend has a grand mal seizure then this is how you can help.

  • Don't panic! Most seizures will stop by themselves in less than 5 minutes.
  • Move anything that might hurt your friend away from her, eg table or chair that she could bang into.
  • Ask others to move away.
  • Send someone for help from an adult.
  • Put soft things like jumpers or towels around your friend, especially near her head to protect it from getting hurt.
  • Once the convulsion has stopped, help your friend by rolling her onto her side in the recovery position and let her sleep if she is in a safe place. It not - help move her to a safe place where she can sleep and recover.

In the 'olden days' people thought that a person who was having a fit might swallow their own tongue and choke! This is not true.

You do not have to hold your friend still to keep her safe. Just give her some space and watch over her.

If the seizure happens at school, the teachers have been trained in how to help someone who has had a seizure, so make sure someone goes to the teacher for help.

What if you have epilepsy?

epilepsyIf you know that you have epilepsy then mum, dad or your caregiver will have taken you to the doctor and you may be having some medicine, which will help your brain to control those 'power surges'.

epilepsyMum, dad or your caregiver will also have talked to people at your school. If your epilepsy is not well controlled and you might have a seizure the teachers may talk to kids in your class so that they will understand and know what to do if you have a seizure.

If your epilepsy is not well controlled you may need to be a bit careful to have someone with you if you are going swimming, climbing on play equipment or playing on water slides. But usually you will be able to do all the things that other children of your age do.

If you take your medicine and take a bit of care, then you can have as busy and active a life as you want.

It may be a good idea to wear an alert bracelet so that people will know that you do have epilepsy if you have a fit.

What some children say

  • "My friend has epilepsy. He has been my friend since we first started school and everyone in our school knows what to do if he has a seizure." Josh
  • "I felt embarrassed when my teacher told everyone that I had epilepsy, but now I am glad because everyone knows what is happening to me. Everyone knows what to do and they are not scared or mean to me."

Dr Kim says:

Dr Kim
"Kids who have epilepsy do not have stop doing things that other kids are doing. It is very important that they take part in sport and other physical activities. The kid and his or her parents or caregiver will have told the teacher if there is anything they need to avoid.

A kid who has epilepsy is a normal kid and does not have to be treated differently to other kids."

If you have epilepsy you need to know as much as possible about it. This site, Epilepsy Action (Australia), will give you good information. 

There is more information for people with epilepsy and their carers on the Epilepsy Foundation site 

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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