Neonatal Seizures

Neonatal seizures often present within the first 72 hours of life and may include subtle, clonic or generalized seizures. These types of seizures are caused by a brain injury due to lack of oxygen and blood called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This occurs in approximately three of every 1,000 live births per year.


Neonatal seizures can be difficult to recognize due to their subtle nature. For some babies, the seizures may manifest in jerking arms and legs.


Neonatal seizures are caused by a lack of oxygen or blood to the brain which causes injury. Reasons that may contribute to this injury are:

  • Trauma during birth
  • Maternal low blood pressure
  • Placenta complications such as inefficiency or rupture
  • Maternal hemorrhaging or blood clots
  • Viruses and infections contracted in-utero or during birth


Most neonatal seizures can be treated with pharmaceutical therapies, including anticonvulsants. After seizure activity has been controlled, your physician will investigate the underlying cause of the seizures and prescribe treatment accordingly.


If HIE is suspected, a physician will use a variety of tools to diagnose a baby including:

  • Sarnat scale: This is an analysis of how the baby appears and functions immediately after birth.
  • Cord blood gas: The gas levels in the umbilical cord may be checked.
  • EEG: This test records the brain's electrical activity through sticky pads (electrodes) attached to the scalp.
  • MRI: An MRI uses large magnets, radio waves and a computer to make images of the inside of the body.

Additional Resources

To learn more about the Epilepsy Center at Texas Children’s Hospital and to inquire about admissions and patient candidates, please contact 832-822-0959.