Disruptions in the electrical signals of the brain’s cells (neurons) lead to seizures.
In a typical brain, the interactivity between neurons is ordered and balanced. However, when multiple neurons misfire simultaneously it can cause sudden changes in an individual’s sensation, behavior and/or consciousness. The severity of this condition depends on the location and intensity of these electrical disruptions. A seizure is classified as either generalized (appearing to begin in both sides of the brain) or focal (beginning in only one part of the brain).
In both a focal and generalized seizure, there may be three parts:
- Aura – This is the beginning of the seizure and affects individuals in different ways. Some may experience changes in sensation while others may not sense the aura at all. When the aura occurs alone, it is a simple focal seizure.
- Ictus – This is middle of the seizure during which the physical effects, such as muscle spasms and loss of consciousness, occur.
- Postictal – This stage occurs after the seizure. The patient may experience symptoms such as partial paralysis, numbness and even continued loss of consciousness.
Causes of Seizures
Anything that disrupts the electric impulses in the nerve cells of the brain can lead to a seizure. While the most common cause of seizures is epilepsy, they can also be triggered by:
- High fever
- Flashing lights, moving patterns or other visual stimulants
- Lack of sleep
- Low blood sodium (hyponatremia), which can happen with diuretic therapy
- Medications such as certain pain relievers, antidepressants or smoking cessation therapies
- Head trauma that causes an area of bleeding in the brain
- Abnormalities of the blood vessels in the brain
- Brain tumor
- Autoimmune disorders
- Use of illegal or recreational drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine
- Alcohol misuse, during times of withdrawal or extreme intoxication
Symptoms of a Seizure
The signs and symptoms of a seizure can range from mild to severe and vary depending on its type.
Common seizure signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Cognitive or emotional symptoms, such as fear, anxiety or déjà vu
You should see your doctor after a seizure to thoroughly review your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may also order several tests to determine the cause of your seizure and evaluate how likely it is that you'll have another one.
These diagnostic tests can include:
- A neurological exam
- Blood tests
- Lumbar puncture
- An electroencephalogram (EEG)
Seizures can often be isolated incidents, so your doctor may not recommend any treatment until after you’ve had more than one. In the case that you do need treatment, you may be prescribed anti-seizure medications.