A seizure is an electrical disturbance in the brain. Seizures can cause changes in behavior, uncontrollable movement, and loss of consciousness. There are many types of seizures and unique causes behind each. Experts call episodes with no known cause unknown onset seizures. Epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder and is defined as two or more seizures or recurrent seizures. Seizures range in severity from very mild and barely noticeable up to an immediate medical emergency. Convulsions may occur, but sometimes uncontrolled movement is limited to slight jerks or spasms, while others experience no movement at all. A very mild seizure may have no symptoms but could be an indication of an undiagnosed medical condition.
Nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other and the rest of the body by sending and receiving electrical impulses. A seizure occurs when something disrupts those electrical communication signals. Some seizures are a result of permanent health issues such as epilepsy, which is a life-long but manageable disorder. Brain injury before or after birth, genetic conditions, and structural abnormalities in the brain can lead to long-term, recurring seizures.
Clear the area around a person having a seizure to avoid injury. If the person is standing, help them gently to the ground. Provide a soft cushion under the head and try to keep him on his side. Seizures that last longer than three minutes require emergency medical care, as do people who fail to regain consciousness, experience multiple seizures, are pregnant or have no prior history of seizures.
Seizures can happen anytime there is a disturbance to brain activity. Infections such as meningitis or any illness accompanied by a high fever, bites or stings, head injuries, or choking may trigger an episode. Alcohol or drug use and withdrawal can result in seizures, or they may be a reaction to other health conditions such as high blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, kidney or liver failure, low blood glucose, or stroke.
Partial or focal seizures occur when abnormal electrical activity happens in a single area of the brain. Focal onset impaired awareness seizures cause loss of consciousness while focal onset aware seizures do not. Symptoms include staring into space, repetitive movements, reacting inappropriately to environmental cues, and involuntary jerking movements. The person having the seizure may notice an abrupt change in emotions, flashing lights, dizziness, or tingling.
There are six types of generalized seizures. The most common and widely known type is the generalized tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure. The tonic phase results in loss of consciousness and generalized stiffening in the body. The clonic phase quickly follows, characterized by violent jerking. The postictal phase is when the person enters a deep sleep after the seizure. Additionally, injuries, tongue biting, and incontinence may occur during the seizure.
Children are the most common group affected by absence seizures. Loss of consciousness lasts only a few seconds, during which time the child stops activity while staring blankly. Absence seizures occur suddenly and may happen several times a day. Myoclonic seizures involve sudden jerks on both sides of the body and sometimes cause involuntary dropping or throwing of items. People describe myoclonic seizures as a short electrical shock.
Clonic seizures cause symptoms on both sides of the body simultaneously -- repetitive, rhythmic jerking movements. Tonic seizures result in muscle stiffening. Atonic seizures are very different from other types. They cause an abrupt, generalized loss of muscle tone and almost always result in falls from a standing or seated position.
Doctor use a combination of tests and medical history to determine seizure types and the best method of treatment. Full medical history and detailed description of the events and circumstances before the seizure occurred are useful in guiding diagnosis. The doctor will look for any medical conditions that could trigger or mimic a seizure. Blood tests look for electrolyte imbalances, a spinal tap can check for infection, and a toxicology screening can identify drugs or poisons. An electroencephalography test measures brain waves, while a CT scan or MRI scan shows images of the brain to find or rule out tumors or issues with blood flow.
Treatment focuses on the cause of the seizures. Possible interventions include medication, surgery, nerve stimulation, and diet modifications. Research suggests a ketogenic diet can help manage seizure disorders. It is not always possible to prevent seizures, but a healthy lifestyle can reduce their frequency.
Life with recurrent seizures can be challenging, but it is manageable. Friends and family should learn what to do during a seizure, and social support is, in general, helpful. If driving is not safe, public transportation can help people with seizures maintain active lifestyles. Doctors are likely to recommend regular medical check-ups, and relaxation techniques such as yoga, mediation, and deep breathing help manage stress, a possible trigger.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.