Neonatal Seizures

Neonatal seizures are a serious medical condition that affects newborns. They are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and can lead to long-term developmental delays. Affecting 1 in every 2,000 births, neonatal seizures require prompt diagnosis and treatment. Early detection is key to minimising any potential neurological damage or behavioural effects. Left untreated, neonatal seizures can have life-altering consequences for both the baby and their family. Thus, understanding the signs and symptoms of neonatal seizures is crucial for new parents.

What are Neonatal Seizures?

Neonatal seizures are abnormal electrical brain activity in newborns, usually occurring within the first month of life. They can be caused by a range of medical conditions, including genetic abnormalities, infections, and head trauma. Seizures can cause symptoms such as trembling, jerking movements, sudden stiffening, staring spells, and changes in breathing or heart rate. Treatment involves controlling symptoms with anticonvulsant drugs or other medications to address any underlying medical conditions. Diagnosis is usually done through an electroencephalograph (EEG).

What are the causes of Neonatal Seizures?

  • Neonatal seizures can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions.
  • Infections, inborn errors of metabolism, head trauma, and blood sugar problems are some of the common causes.
  • Brain abnormalities, genetic disorders, and prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs can also cause neonatal seizures.
  • Hypoxia during birth (lack of oxygen) is another cause.
  • Abnormal levels of electrolytes like sodium, calcium, and magnesium can also be responsible for seizures in newborns.

What are the symptoms of Neonatal Seizures?

  • Neonatal seizures are characterized by sudden, brief, jerking movements of the face, arms, and legs.
  • Other symptoms may include staring, blinking, lip-smacking, chewing, and/or tongue thrusting.
  • Increased muscle tone or stiffness in the body may also be present.
  • Breathing changes such as pauses or irregular respirations may occur.
  • Some infants may have decreased responsiveness or become unresponsive during a seizure.
  • Loss of consciousness and apnea (cessation of breathing) can also occur.

When should one see a doctor for Neonatal Seizures?

If a newborn baby experiences seizures, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately. Seizures can be caused by a variety of conditions, some of which require immediate treatment to prevent serious complications. A doctor should be consulted if the baby has more than one seizure or has a seizure that lasts more than five minutes. Additionally, if an infant's movements are abnormal or if they have difficulty breathing during or after a seizure, medical attention is advised. If a baby shows any signs of having had a seizure, parents should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

What are the risk factors for Neonatal Seizures?

  • Neonatal seizures can be caused by various factors.
  • The most common causes are hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, birth asphyxia, infection, metabolic disorders, and intracranial haemorrhage.
  • Low birth weight and prematurity can also increase the risk of neonatal seizures.
  • Complications during labour and delivery, as well as maternal drug abuse or smoking during pregnancy, may also increase the risk.
  • Genetic disorders such as tuberous sclerosis can also increase the chance of neonatal seizures.


Neonatal seizures are a medical emergency that can be caused by various neurological issues. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to ensure the well-being of the child. While neonatal seizures can be difficult to diagnose, comprehensive diagnostic testing can provide important information about the underlying cause of the seizure and guide physicians in selecting the best course of treatment for the newborn. With prompt and appropriate care, many infants with neonatal seizures can make a full recovery and lead healthy lives.

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1. How is a neonatal seizure diagnosed?

A neonatal seizure is typically diagnosed through observation and medical testing such as EEGs and blood tests to identify any underlying causes that may be contributing to the seizures.

2. How are neonatal seizures treated?

Treatment for neonatal seizures depends on the underlying cause and may involve medications, dietary adjustments, or surgery to address any structural issues in the brain or other organs that are contributing to the seizures.

3. Are there long-term effects associated with neonatal seizures?

Yes, some infants who have experienced recurrent seizures may experience delayed cognitive development or physical impairments later in life.

4. Can neonatal seizures be prevented?

Preventing neonatal seizures involves managing risk factors such as infections, metabolic disorders, and maternal drug use during pregnancy. In some cases, delivering the baby via cesarean section may reduce the risk of neonatal seizures. However, in many cases, neonatal seizures cannot be prevented.

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