Epilepsy Seizure

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Seizures are caused by sudden, large discharges of electrical impulses from brain cells. A seizure may involve a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the part of the brain affected and the type of seizure.

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

Seizures may be caused by many conditions, diseases, injuries, and other factors. These may include conditions such as the following:

  • abnormalities in the blood vessels of the brain
  • atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries supplying the brain
  • bleeding into the brain, such as a subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • brain tumors
  • chromosomal abnormalities
  • congenital diseases or conditions
  • high blood pressure
  • pregnancy and problems associated with pregnancy
  • stroke
  • transient ischemic attack, which is also called a mini-stroke
  • Diseases also can be a factor in seizures, for example:

  • advanced liver disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia
  • epilepsy, or a disease of the nervous system
  • hereditary diseases
  • infections involving the brain, including encephalitis, brain abscess, and bacterial meningitis
  • kidney failure, such as chronic renal failure
  • Injuries that may cause seizures include the following:

  • choking
  • head injury, such as a motor vehicle accident or sports injury
  • electrical injuries
  • injury during birth or in the uterus
  • poisonous insect bites or stings
  • Additional factors that may cause seizures include the following:

  • alcohol withdrawal
  • craniotomy, which is brain surgery
  • high fever, especially in young children
  • illegal drugs, such as cocaine
  • lead poisoning
  • overheating
  • withdrawal from some medicines, including those used to treat seizures
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?

    Signs and symptoms of seizures vary according to the type of seizure and the portion of the brain that is affected.

    Absence seizures used to be called petit mal seizures. They generally have the following characteristics:

  • include small movements of the face or eyes
  • involve staring into space or dulling of consciousness
  • last from a few seconds to a minute
  • are most common in children
  • Tonic-clonic seizures were formerly called grand mal seizures. These seizures often have the following characteristics:

  • begin suddenly without warning
  • cause confusion or fatigue the rest of the day
  • include jerking of the arms and legs
  • include loss of bladder control
  • involve stiffening of the body
  • last 1 to 2 minutes, with consciousness returning up to 15 minutes later
  • Atonic seizures may have the following characteristics:

  • involve a loss of muscle tone so the person drops to the ground without warning
  • last a few seconds
  • person may or may not lose consciousness
  • Myoclonic seizures generally have the following characteristics:

  • involve quick muscle jerking
  • may be triggered by too much alcohol or not enough sleep
  • usually don’t cause loss of consciousness
  • usually happen in the early morning
  • Clonic seizures may have the following characteristics:

  • cause loss of consciousness
  • involve muscle jerking
  • are most common in childhood
  • Simple partial seizures usually have the following characteristics:

  • consciousness not changed
  • last a few seconds
  • may continue on to a complex partial seizure or generalized tonic-clonic seizure
  • may involve body movements
  • things in the environment may look, sound, feel, or taste differently
  • Complex partial seizures may include the following characteristics:

  • automatic behaviors, such as lip smacking or hand rubbing
  • confusion after the seizure is over
  • loss of contact with the environment, even though the person is still conscious
  • loss of memory for events that occur during the seizure
  • may go on to a generalized tonic-clonic seizure
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the injury recognized?

    Seizures may cause major symptoms, such as the following:

  • an absence of breathing
  • a big change in behavior
  • confusion
  • loss of bowel and bladder control
  • loss of consciousness
  • muscle spasms that cause twitching or jerking of the arms, legs, or both
  • Other types of seizures may produce more subtle symptoms.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the injury?

    By reducing excessive alcohol use, a person decreases his or her risk of seizures. However, if a person with alcoholism stops drinking completely, the risk of withdrawal seizures increases. A sudden withdrawal from certain medicines, such as phenobarbital or diazepam, can also cause seizures. It’s important to follow the healthcare provider’s prescription for decreasing or stopping a medicine or alcohol.

    Keeping blood pressure under control reduces a person’s risk of seizures. It also helps prevent stroke, which can lead to seizures. People with epilepsy need to take their medicines as prescribed to lower the risk for seizures.

    Protection against head injury is critical for all ages. Following sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, and adults can prevent some injuries.

    Many times, there is no way to prevent epilepsy. Once it is diagnosed, individuals can lower their risk of seizures by:

  • avoiding excess alcohol
  • avoiding illegal drugs, especially marijuana and cocaine
  • getting enough sleep
  • limiting intake of stimulants such as caffeine
  • recognizing and avoiding known factors that trigger their own seizures
  • seeking prompt treatment for fever and illness
  • taking all medicines as prescribed
  • Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the injury?

    When a seizure occurs, the first treatment is to keep the person safe. Anyone giving first aid to a person having a seizure should follow these steps:

  • If possible, move furniture and other sharp objects away from the person.
  • If the victim starts to vomit, roll him or her on his or her side.
  • Protect the person from falling and from hitting his or her head.
  • Stay with the victim and get help from his or her healthcare professional.
  • Try to prevent the victim from hurting him or herself or someone nearby.
  • When someone has a seizure, it’s important that bystanders do not:

  • move the victim, unless he or she is in serious danger
  • place fingers in the victim’s mouth
  • restrain the victim
  • slap the victim or try to stop him or her from convulsing
  • try to give rescue breaths or CPR during the seizure
  • If an infant or a child is having a seizure that seems to be caused by a high fever, it is important to cool the body slowly. Do not immerse the child in a cold bath. Instead, use a sponge or cool compress with lukewarm water.

    After a seizure is over, the victim will probably want to sleep. This is OK. He or she will also be somewhat disoriented. The period following a seizure is called the postictal phase.

    Contact emergency medical services right away if:

  • seizures are lasting longer than 2 minutes
  • the victim had a seizure while in water
  • the victim has never had a seizure before
  • the victim has other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • the victim is having many seizures
  • the victim is ill, has a fever, seems very weak, or is drunk
  • the victim is not able to be awakened between seizures
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Seizures can injure the person and anyone giving first aid. The person can end up with head injuries, cuts, abrasions, scratches, and injured limbs. The person’s flailing arms or other body parts can hurt anyone who is helping. Sometimes seizures last so long that the person loses consciousness. And rarely, the person can have brain damage.

    What happens after treatment for the injury?

    A healthcare professional may prescribe medicine to prevent future seizures. It is also important to control high blood pressure or heart disease. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

    Article type: xmedgeneral