A seizure is an uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain caused by an abnormal electrical discharge. Reasons are head injury, stroke, or low blood sugar.
A seizure is an uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. They can be caused by a variety of things, including illness, injury, or even stress. While seizures can be frightening to witness, it is important to remember that they are not always dangerous, and most people who experience them will make a full recovery. In this blog post, we will discuss the different types of seizures, how to recognize them, and what you should do if someone experiences one.
What are seizures?
A seizure is an uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain caused by an abnormal electrical discharge. This can happen due to a variety of reasons, including head injury, stroke, low blood sugar, or even just stress.
Seizures can vary in severity, from a brief loss of consciousness to convulsions and muscle spasms. While they can be frightening to witness, most seizures only last a few minutes, and the person will usually make a full recovery.
What causes seizures?
There are many different causes of seizures, but they can generally be divided into two categories: structural and functional.
- Structural causes include things like head injuries, stroke, or tumors.
- Functional causes are usually due to things like low blood sugar, high fever, or drug intoxication.
The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells (neurons) that send and receive electrical impulses, allowing the brain’s nerve cells to communicate. A seizure can be brought on by anything that disrupts these communication pathways in the brain. Genetic mistakes may trigger certain types of epilepsy nerve cell abnormalities.
Though the primary cause of seizures is epilepsy, not every individual who has a seizure necessarily has epilepsy. In some cases, seizures may be set off by:
- A high fever (febrile seizures)
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Withdrawal from certain drugs
- Lack of sleep
- Flashing lights (photosensitive epilepsy)
- Brain tumor
- Head trauma
- Abnormalities of the blood vessels in the brain
- Autoimmune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis
What are the symptoms of seizures?
The symptoms of seizures can vary depending on the type of seizure. However, some common signs may occur before or during a seizure, which include:
- Aura: This is a warning sign that a seizure is about to happen. It can include changes in vision, smell, taste, hearing, or feeling.
- Uncontrollable jerking movements: This is the most common type of seizure and can involve the whole body or just a part of it.
- Loss of consciousness: This type of seizure can cause the person to lose awareness and become unresponsive.
- Breathing problems: This can cause the person to stop breathing or have difficulty breathing.
- Temporary confusion: This can cause the person to have difficulty speaking or understanding what is happening.
- A staring spell: This can cause the person to stare blankly into space for a short period.
How can you tell if someone is having a seizure?
Seizures can present in a variety of ways, so it is important to be familiar with the different types that exist.
The most common type of seizure is a tonic-clonic seizure, which used to be known as a grandmal seizure. This type of seizure usually begins with the person losing consciousness and collapsing to the ground. Their muscles will then stiffen, and they will have a series of muscle spasms. During this time, they may also lose control of their bladder or bowels.
Other types of seizures include:
- Absence seizure: This type of seizure is more common in children and is characterized by a brief loss of consciousness. The person may appear to be staring into space and will not respond to their surroundings.
- Atonic seizure: Also known as a drop attack, this type of seizure is characterized by a sudden loss of muscle tone. The person may fall to the ground without warning.
- Clonic seizure: This type of seizure is characterized by a series of muscle spasms. The neck, face, and arms on both sides of the body are most often affected.
- Tonic seizure: This type of seizure is characterized by a sudden stiffening of the muscles.
- Myoclonic seizure: This type of seizure is characterized by a sudden jerk or twitch of the muscles.
What should you do if someone has a seizure?
If you witness someone having a seizure, it is important to stay calm and follow these steps:
- Do not try to hold the person down or stop their movements.
- Do not put anything in the person’s mouth.
- Remove any nearby objects that could hurt the person.
- Turn the person onto their side to help them breathe.
- Stay with the person until the seizure has ended.
If the person does not have a medical condition that is known to cause seizures, call 911.
How are seizures diagnosed?
A seizure can be diagnosed after a physical examination and review of the person’s medical history. The doctor will also ask about any family history of seizures or neurological disorders. A neurologic exam may also be performed.
In some cases, additional tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions that could be causing the seizures. These tests can include:
- Blood tests: These can be used to check for infections or other conditions that could be causing seizures.
- Imaging tests: MRI or CT scan can be used to look for abnormalities in the brain that could be causing the seizures.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test is used to measure the electrical activity of the brain.
What are the treatments for seizures?
The treatment for seizures will depend on the underlying cause. If the seizures are caused by an underlying medical condition, treating the condition will often help to control the seizures.
If the cause of the seizures is unknown, there are still treatments that can be used to help control the seizures. These treatments can include:
This type of medication can help to control seizures by reducing the electrical activity in the brain.
A ketogenic diet, for example, can aid in seizure control. The ketogenic diet is quite difficult to follow since it limits what you can eat. Although they are not as strict as the ketogenic diet, modified high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets that include elements like the low glycemic index and modified Atkins diets may still be useful. These modified diets are still being investigated.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove a tumor or other abnormality in the brain that is causing the seizures. There are several types of surgery, including:
- Hemispherectomy: This type of surgery involves removing half of the outer layer of the brain.
- Corpus callosotomy: This type of surgery involves cutting the corpus callosum, which is the bundle of fibers that connect the two hemispheres of the brain. This surgery is typically done when seizures originate in one hemisphere of the brain and spread to the other hemisphere.
- Multiple subpial transections: This type of surgery involves making multiple cuts in the outer layer of the brain. It’s usually done when the area of the brain where seizures start can’t be safely removed.
- Lobectomy: This type of surgery involves removing a lobe of the brain. It is typically done in adults who have seizures that originate in one lobe of the brain.
- Thermal ablation: This type of surgery uses heat to destroy the area of the brain where seizures start. It is typically done in adults who have seizures that originate in one small area of the brain.
- Vagus nerve stimulator: This device is implanted under the skin and sends electrical impulses to the vagus nerve, which is thought to help reduce seizure activity.
- Deep brain stimulator: This device is implanted under the skin and sends electrical impulses to specific areas of the brain that are thought to help reduce seizure activity.
What are the complications of seizures?
Seizures can cause several complications, including:
- Falls: Seizures can cause people to fall, which can lead to injuries.
- Drowning: If a seizure occurs while the person is swimming, they may be at risk of drowning.
- Car accidents: If a seizure occurs while the person is driving, they may be at risk for a car accident.
- Injury to self or others: Seizures can cause people to injure themselves or others.
- Complications in pregnancy: Pregnancy can be a seizure-prone time for any woman, but if you have epilepsy, it’s especially important to work with your doctor to monitor both your medication and your pregnancy. Anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs) are known to increase the risk of birth defects, so you must keep close tabs on both mother and baby throughout the pregnancy. Seizures can cause complications in pregnancy, such as miscarriage or preterm labor.
Prevention of seizures
There is no sure way to prevent seizures, but there are some things that can help lower the risk:
- Get enough sleep: Seizures are more likely to occur when a person is sleep deprived.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol: Drugs and alcohol can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.
- Avoid triggers: If you know what triggers your seizures, try to avoid those triggers.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can help to lower the risk of seizures.
What is the outlook for someone with seizures?
The outlook for someone with seizures will depend on the underlying cause. If the seizures are caused by an underlying medical condition, the outlook will depend on the severity of the condition.
If the cause of the seizures is unknown, the outlook is generally good. With treatment, most people can control their seizures and live normal life.
Seizures can be a frightening experience for both the person having the seizure and those who witness it. It is important to stay calm and remember that the person is not in control of their body during a seizure.