Seizures in newborn babies, called neonatal seizures, are caused by sudden and excessive electrical activity in the brain. There are many possible reasons for the seizures, including a temporary problem with metabolism (the process by which the body turns food and water into energy), lack of oxygen before or during birth, an infection, or a stroke.
Seizures in newborn babies can be difficult to identify since their motions are often similar to motions made by babies that don’t have seizures. These include random eye movements, bicycling movements of the legs, a protruding tongue, and thrashing movements. A procedure called a video electroencephalogram (VEEG) records the electrical activity of the brain and, at the same time, a video of the baby’s movements. This allows doctors to observe brainwave activity, any potential seizure and any body movements that might be associated with seizures.
While the anti-seizure medication phenobarbital is the standard of care for the initial treatment of seizures in newborn babies, there is currently no definite recommendation on the most suitable second line treatment option (treatment that is given when the initial treatment doesn’t work, or stops working). Newer antiepileptic drugs are available for older children and adults, but more research, such as the PETITE study, is needed to find new treatment options for newborns with seizures.