Neonatal Seizure
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Neonatal Seizure

Pronounced: Nee-oh-nay-tul see-zhur

En Español (Spanish Version)


A seizure is a change in behavior that is caused by sudden, abnormal, and excessive electrical activity in the brain. A neonatal seizure occurs in newborn babies.

Seizures may be severe or mild, and may cause physical changes like convulsions. Seizures may affect only part of the body or the entire body. A short seizure itself does not cause serious health conditions. However, a seizure may be a symptom or side effect of a more serious health condition. Prolonged seizures can lead to permanent damage due to lack of sufficient oxygenation and excessive brain cell activity (excitotoxicity).


There are a variety of causes of seizures in children, which include:

  • Conditions like epilepsy
  • An injury or trauma to the head
  • Infections, including meningitis and abscesses in the brain
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Accidental poisoning
  • Certain medical conditions, including:
    • Low blood sugar
    • Very high fever (especially in children)

Sometimes seizures occur for unknown reasons.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. The following factors increase your child's chance of having a seizure:

  • Having had a previous seizure
  • Having a very high fever
  • Having health conditions like:
    • Epilepsy
    • Brain tumors
    • Brain infections
  • Having a family history of seizures.


Symptoms of seizures vary based on the type of seizure that occurs, but may include:

  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Staring, or a dazed look
  • Jerking movements of the limbs and/or body (convulsions)
  • Abnormal brain activity reflected in a lab test or scan
  • High fever (higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eyes rolling back in the head
  • Crying or moaning
  • Vomiting
  • Urinating


Your doctor will ask about your child‘s symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • CT scan of the head—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head
  • MRI scan of the head—a test that uses magnetic energy to make pictures of structures inside the head
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)—a test that records the brain’s activity by measuring electrical currents through the brain
  • Lumbar puncture—removal of a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing
  • Blood tests



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Treatment for the seizures depends on the cause of the seizures. Some seizures require no treatment, while others may require treatment of the underlying condition responsible for the seizure. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your baby.

For febrile seizures, which are most common in children and caused by fever, treatment is rarely required. Your doctor may advise that you give your baby medicine to keep fever down whenever he/she gets sick. Treatment options for other types of seizures include medications and surgery.


Anticonvulsant medication may be prescribed to help prevent the abnormal brain activity that causes seizures. Medications are not usually prescribed for febrile seizures.


Surgery of the brain may help reduce seizures in some patients with epilepsy. Surgery may involve separating nerve fibers or removing a portion of the brain to reduce or eliminate seizures.


Seizures cannot be prevented, but you should take safety precautions if you notice your child’s behavior changing. You should get your child to a safe place and lay him down to avoid injury.


American Academy of Family Physicians

The Mayo Clinic


British Columbia Ministry of Health

Epilepsy Ontario


Hogan T. Seizure disorders in childhood. Loyola University Medical Education Network website. Available at: Accessed April 20, 2007.

Neonatal seizures. Intensive Care Nursery Staff House Manual. The University of California San Francisco Children's Hospital website. Available at: April 20, 2007.

Wong W. Neonatal seizures. Pediatric Epilepsy Center website. Available at: April 20, 2007.

Last reviewed April 2008 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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