Seizures: Causes, symptoms, types, and treatment
There’s not just one type of seizure, and for that reason some people aren’t always sure that they’re experiencing one. Seizures come in many shapes and forms, and they affect people in different ways. Essentially, though, a seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affects how a person appears or acts for a short period of time.
While we don’t know exactly why seizures occur, the Epilepsy Foundationexplains that seizures are caused by a complex chemical change in our nerve cells. There are certain cells that promote, or stop, these nerves from sending messages; however, it’s believed that when a seizure happens, there’s too much or too little activity by these nerve cells, causing an imbalance.
It’s also important to note that a seizure is a single occurrence, but epilepsy is defined as two or more seizures.
WebMD explains that there are many conditions that can cause the onset of a seizure:
– Brain tumors
– Head injuries
– Electrolyte imbalance
– Extremely low blood sugar
– Repetitive sounds or flashing lights
– Medications, including antipsychotics and some asthma drugs
– Withdrawal from medications like Xanax, narcotics or alcohol
– Use of drugs
– Brain infections, such as meningitis
Types of seizures and their warning signs
There are generally two types of seizures — and many subtypes — that doctors diagnose based on the pattern and severity of the attack, according to WebMD.
This type of seizure affects the entire brain throughout the seizure. There are six subtypes of generalized seizures that have their own warning signs and symptoms:
- Grand mal or generalized tonic-clonic: Unconsciousness, convulsions, muscle rigidity
2. Absence: Brief loss of consciousness
3. Myoclonic:Sporadic jerking movements
4. Clonic: Repetitive, jerking movements
5. Tonic: Muscle stiffness, rigidity
6. Atonic: Loss of muscle tone
Partial (or focal) seizures
This kind of seizure involves just a small part of the brain, or at least a small part at the onset of the seizure. It is possible for partial seizures to spread to other parts of the brain, though. There are several subtypes and variants within subtypes:
a. Simple motor:Jerking, muscle rigidity, spasms, head-turning
b. Simple sensory: Unusual sensations affecting either the vision, hearing, smell, taste or touch
c. Simple psychological: Memory or emotional disturbances
2. Complex: Impairment of awareness and the onset of involuntary but coordinated movements, like lip smacking, chewing, fidgeting, walking and other repetitive movements
3. Partial seizure with secondary generalization: Usually a retained consciousness that then deteriorates into a loss of consciousness and then turns into convulsions
Before a seizure
You might also experience a certain set of symptoms that include awareness, emotional, sensory and thought changes before a seizure occurs, according to the Epilepsy Foundation:
– Déjà vu (a feeling of
being there before but never have)
– Jamais vu (a feeling that something is very familiar but it isn’t)
– Visual loss, visual blurring
– “Strange” feelings
– Fear and/or panic
– Pleasant feelings
– Racing thoughts
– Dizzy or lightheaded
– Nausea or other stomach feelings (such as a rising feeling from the stomach to the throat)
– Numbness or tingling in part of the body
For more information on the stages of a seizure, check out the Epilepsy Foundation’s website.
Treating seizures is different and specific for each patient. You might be prescribed a drug that can help treat the seizures, but which drug you are prescribed will be based on your symptoms and existing health conditions. There are a wide variety of drugs available on the market, which WebMD describes.
Severe cases of epilepsy might also require surgery, but this is pretty rare and only resorted to if medications don’t help. A ketogenic diet might also be prescribed, which is a diet that consists of a high fat content and low carbohydrate content. In the end, your treatment will greatly depend on what kind of seizures you have and how often you experience them. It’s important to speak to your doctor right away if you’ve ever had a seizure or recognize any of the signs or symptoms above.