All there is to know about neonatal seizures


Seizures are abnormal, excited, sudden activity in a baby's brain. Neonatal seizures are defined as the occurrence of sudden, paroxysmal, abnormal alteration of electrographic activity at any point from birth to the end of the neonatal period. While neonatal seizures are often harmless, they can sometimes be evidence of an underlying health condition in the infant. This is why a doctoral consultation is essential if such seizures occur.

Different types of neonatal seizures

There are four different types of neonatal seizures. These include subtle (unspecified) seizures, clonic seizures, tonic seizures, and myoclonic seizures. The seizures can either be focal i.e. localized to a part of the body or multi-focal i.e. involving several parts of the body. Subtle (unspecified) seizures are most common among the different kinds of seizures.


Symptoms of neonatal seizures usually involve abnormal physical activity. Each type of neonatal seizure has a different set of symptoms. For instance, the baby might make random eye movements in the case of subtle seizures. In the case of clonic seizures, they might make rhythmic jerky movements. Stiffening or tightening the muscles is common for tonic seizures, while quick single, jerking movements might be a sign of myoclonic seizures.


The causes of neonatal seizures can greatly vary. Lack of oxygen during or before birth is a common cause. Seizures can also be the result of an infection such as bacterial meningitis. A stroke before or after birth, blood clots or bleeding in the brain, brain birth defects, and blood sugar or electrolyte imbalances are some of the other causes of neonatal seizures.


Neonatal seizures can be detected through a test called an electroencephalogram (EEG). Since EEGs measure the electrical activity in the brain, abnormalities in an EEG test can be an indicator of seizure risk. However, benign familial neonatal seizures can go undetected on an EEG. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans can also be used to determine the causes of seizures.

Risk factors

Preterm birth, maternal diabetes, and fetal distress are some of the common risk factors associated with neonatal seizures. Maternal hypothyroidism after birth and 5-min Apgar scores are other risk factors. Genetics are also a critical factor, as studies have identified that mutations can be responsible for seizures.


Since seizures occur due to underlying health conditions, neonatal seizures can be prevented by addressing the underlying cause. Neonatal hypoglycemia or meningitis-causing infections are some of the main reasons that can be addressed. A baby may also suffer from a birth injury called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which can be addressed through the cooling of the brain to help prevent or decrease brain damage.


Seizures can be controlled through anticonvulsant medications, which include phenobarbital, lorazepam and phenytoin. Babies not receiving enough oxygen to the brain may be treated through hypothermia. This involves cooling the baby's body and brain for hours or days after birth. It is important that the babies are carefully monitored during this period, and that they are slowly re-warmed.


Neonatal seizures are quite common occurrences and can sometimes indicate a serious underlying issue. There are four types of neonatal seizures, each of them with its own set of symptoms. The seizures can be detected through an EEG and can be treated using anti-convulsant medications. If your baby shows signs or symptoms of seizures, you must reach out to a physician right away.

Request an appointment at Apollo Cradle, DELHI-NCR - Chirag Enclave. Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

1. What are the four types of neonatal seizures?

The four types of neonatal seizures include simple (subtle), clonic, tonic, and myoclonic.

2. What is the most common cause of neonatal seizures?

Hypoxic–ischaemic encephalopathy is the most common cause of neonatal seizures. It involves a distressing of the brain due to a lack of oxygen supply.

3. What are some anticonvulsants that can be prescribed to a baby suffering from neonatal seizures?

Phenobarbital, lorazepam and phenytoin are some of the anticonvulsants that can be prescribed to a baby suffering from neonatal seizures

4. When is hypothermia used as treatment?

Hypothermia can be used as a treatment for seizures when the baby is suffering from a lack of oxygen supply to the brain, as in the case of hypoxic–ischaemic encephalopathy.
What is an electroencephalogram (EEG) and how is it useful?
An electroencephalogram is a test done to analyze brain activity. It can be useful in detecting seizures.

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