Self-limited infantile epilepsy is a condition that causes the onset of epileptic seizures in babies between 3 and 20 months of age. Previously, medical professionals called it benign infantile epilepsy.

Symptoms that may occur during a seizure include jerking movements, turning the eyes or head to one side, staring straight ahead, and more. The condition may be genetic, though the cause can be unclear.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of self-limited infantile epilepsy. This article also looks at treatment options, diagnosing the condition, and more.

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Self-limited infantile epilepsy is a medical term for a condition that professionals previously called benign infantile epilepsy.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the onset of seizures begin between the first 2 days and 7 months in an otherwise healthy infant.

Self-limited infantile epilepsy may be familial or nonfamilial. While self-limited familial infantile epilepsy may be due to family history or an autosomal dominant trait of inheritance — where biological parents pass the condition to a child — around one-third of cases have no family history.

Learn more about epilepsy in children.

In some cases, genetics may play a role in the development of self-limited infantile epilepsy.

Genetic mutation or a change in genes can cause self-limited familial and nonfamilial forms of infantile seizures. Researchers have identified the PRRT2, KCNQ2, SCN8A, ATP1A2, and SCN2A genes in children that may be factors, and a biological parent with the gene can pass it on to their offspring. Children with the SCN2A genes have a higher risk of seizures after 6 months of age.

Sometimes, the altered gene causing the epileptic seizure appears for the first time in a child due to unknown reasons.

Researchers have not found any links between self-limited infantile epilepsy and any problems related to pregnancy, birth, or the development of the fetus.

Learn more about epilepsy.

A focal seizure, which affects only one side of the brain, is the main symptom of self-limited infantile epilepsy. A child may experience 5–10 episodes per day, each one lasting around 2–3 minutes.

During a seizure, a child may experience symptoms including:

  • making atypical movements or automatisms with the hand, face, or arm
  • making jerking or clonic movements alternating from one side of the body to the other
  • turning the eyes or head to one side
  • staring straight ahead to one side of the body
  • suddenly stopping activities
  • loss of consciousness

Medical experts explain it is important to not restrain or move the baby or child having a seizure unless they are in danger. Staying with them and placing soft padding around them, such as pillows, can help protect them.

Learn more about focal seizures.

The doctor will consider the seizure type, frequency, and potential side effects of the medication before recommending a treatment plan.

Examples of medications they may recommend include:

  • carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Tegretol)
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • levetiracetam (Keppra, Keppra XR)
  • oxcarbazepine (Oxtellar, Oxtellar XR, Trileptal)
  • rufinamide (Banzel)

Research from 2023 suggests that antiepileptic drugs are effective in improving the symptoms of self-limited infantile epilepsy — as most children respond well to them — and seizures. They can typically help control seizures by the age of 2 years.

Learn more about epilepsy medications.

Self-limited infantile epilepsy typically starts in babies between 3 and 20 months of age. However, it usually begins when they are around 6 months old. Seizures typically stop by 1–2 years of age or can sometimes last into early childhood.

About 7–9 in every 100 children who develop epilepsy under the age of 2 years will have self-limited infantile epilepsy.

According to one 2023 article, self-limited infantile epilepsy accounts for 15–20% of all childhood epilepsies. A 2019 study calculated that this epilepsy subtype has an incidence rate of at least 1 in 9,970 live births.

To make a diagnosis, the doctor may ask questions, perform a physical examination, and order tests.

Tests can include:

  • electroencephalography to look at electrical activity in the brain
  • imaging tests of the brain, such as MRIs or CT scans
  • genetic testing to detect any changes or mutations in specific genes

Learn more about how doctors diagnose epilepsy.

A 2022 study that evaluated self-limited infantile epilepsy in 46 participants with unusual clinical presentations states that the condition may have a very positive outlook.

The British Epilepsy Association notes that children with self-limited infantile epilepsy tolerate antiepilepsy medications well and that seizures typically stop within 1 year. In rare instances, some children have fewer episodes that continue as they get older, sometimes into adulthood.

Self-limited infantile epilepsy, previously benign infantile epilepsy, is a condition that causes the onset of epileptic seizures in infants between 3 and 20 months of age. Seizures usually begin in the first few months of life.

Self-limited infantile epilepsy may be familial if a child has an autosomal dominant trait from a family history or nonfamilial if the child develops the condition without a family history.

To make a diagnosis, the doctor will likely order an EEG, as well as an MRI or CT scan. Following diagnosis, they may recommend antiepilepsy medication. Seizures typically stop after around 1 year.