A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. A seizureusually affects how a person appears or acts for a short time. Many different things can occur during a seizure. Whatever the brain and body can do normally can also occur during a seizure.
Causes of Seizures
Seizures of all types are caused by disorganized and sudden electrical activity in the brain.
Causes of seizures can include:
- Abnormal levels of sodium or glucose in the blood
- Brain infection, including meningitis
- Brain injury that occurs to the baby during labor or childbirth
- Brain problems that occur before birth (congenital brain defects)
- Brain tumor (rare)
- Drug abuse
- Electric shock
- Fever (particularly in young children)
- Head injury
- Heart disease
- Heat illness (heat intolerance)
- High fever
- Phenylketonuria (PKU), which can cause seizures in infants
- Street drugs, such as angel dust (PCP), cocaine, amphetamines
- Toxemia of pregnancy
- Toxin buildup in the body due to liver or kidney failure
- Very high blood pressure (malignant hypertension)
- Venomous bites and stings (snake bite)
- Withdrawal from alcohol or certain medicines after using for a long time
Sometimes, no cause can be found. This is called idiopathic seizures. They are usually seen in children and young adults, but can occur at any age. There may be a family history of epilepsy or seizures.
If seizures continue repeatedly after the underlying problem is treated, the condition is called epilepsy.
Common symptoms before a seizure:
Awareness, Sensory, Emotional or Thought Changes:
- 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 or blurring
- “Strange” feelings
- Fear/panic (often negative or scary feelings)
- Pleasant feelings
- Racing thoughts
- Dizzy or lightheaded
- Nausea or other stomach feelings (often a rising feeling from the stomach to the throat)
- Numbness or tingling in part of the body
Common symptoms during a seizure.
Awareness, Sensory, Emotional or Thought Changes:
- Loss of awareness (often called “black out”)
- Confused, feeling spacey
- Periods of forgetfulness or memory lapses
- Distracted, daydreaming
- Loss of consciousness, unconscious, or “pass out”
- Unable to hear
- Sounds may be strange or different
- Unusual smells (often bad smells like burning rubber)
- Unusual tastes
- Loss of vision or unable to see
- Blurry vision
- Flashing lights
- Formed visual hallucinations (objects or things are seen that aren’t really there)
- Numbness, tingling, or electric shock like feeling in body, arm or leg
- Out of body sensations
- Feeling detached
- Déjà vu (feeling of being there before but never have)
- Jamais vu (feeling that something is very familiar but it isn’t)
- Body parts feels or looks different
- Feeling of panic, fear, impending doom (intense feeling that something bad is going to happen)
- Pleasant feelings
Types of Seizures
There are several types of epilepsy, each with different causes, symptoms and treatments. Learn about idiopathic epilepsy, symptomatic epilepsy, and other types.
- Refractory Epilepsy
If your doctor says you have refractory epilepsy, it means that medicine isn’t bringing your seizures under control. You might hear the condition called by some other names, such as uncontrolled, intractable, or drug-resistant epilepsy.
- Photosensitive Epilepsy
Learn what photosensitive epilepsy is and how it’s treated.
- Benign Rolandic Epilepsy
Benign rolandic epilepsy is one form of epilepsy. With this condition, seizures affect the face and sometimes the body.
- Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome
Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a rare and severe kind of epilepsy that starts in childhood. Read more about it here.
- Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy
Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is among the most common forms of epilepsy. One of every 14 people with epilepsy have juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.
- Abdominal Epilepsy
Abdominal epilepsy is an exceptionally rare syndrome of epilepsy that’s more likely to occur in children. With abdominal epilepsy, seizure activity causes abdominal symptoms.
- Absence Seizures
Affecting about two of every 1,000 people, absence (formerly called petit mal) seizures are caused by abnormal and intense electrical activity in the brain.
- Temporal Lobe Seizures
Temporal lobe, or psychomotor, seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in an area of the brain known as the temporal lobe. This abnormal activity results in temporary changes in movement, sensation, or autonomic function (such as heart rate and salivation).
Seizures in Children
Watching your child have his or her first seizure was probably one of the most frightening moments of your life. Finding out that your child has epilepsy may have been another one.
- Epilepsy and Teens– Teenage years are often a time when standing out is the last thing a child wants. A lot of kids feel painfully awkward, and it can be worse for teenagers with epilepsy.
- Caring for a Child with Epilepsy– The challenges of parenting are compounded if your child has epilepsy. Not only do you have the normal concerns about raising a child, but now you have to address emotional concerns both you and your child may have about living with epilepsy.
- Handling Bad Behavior in a Child With Epilepsy– Remember, children with epilepsy should be treated just like any other child whenever possible. Just as kids with epilepsy can go to school, play sports, and go on dates, they can also get yelled at by their parents when they step out of line.
- Epilepsy and Your Child’s School– The best way to prevent misunderstandings about epilepsy at school is to step in early. At the beginning of the year, go talk to your child’s teacher and school nurse.
- Your Child, Sports, and Epilepsy– Some children with epilepsy worry that they won’t be able to play sports. A lot of parents have the mistaken impression that sports are too dangerous.
Seizures Home Treatment
Most seizures stop by themselves. But during a seizure, the person can be hurt or injured.
When a seizure occurs, the main goal is to protect the person from injury:
- Try to prevent a fall. Lay the person on the ground in a safe area. Clear the area of furniture or other sharp objects.
- Cushion the person’s head.
- Loosen tight clothing, especially around the neck.
- Turn the person on their side. If vomiting occurs, this helps make sure that the vomit is not inhaled into the lungs.
- Look for a medical ID bracelet with seizure instructions.
- Stay with the person until he or she recovers, or until professional medical help arrives.
Things friends and family members should not do:
- Do not restrain (try to hold down) the person.
- Do not place anything between the person’s teeth during a seizure (including your fingers).
- Do not move the person unless they are in danger or near something hazardous.
- Do not try to make the person stop convulsing. They have no control over the seizure and are not aware of what is happening at the time.
- Do not give the person anything by mouth until the convulsions have stopped and the person is fully awake and alert.
- Do not start CPR unless the seizure has clearly stopped and the person is not breathing or has no pulse.
If a baby or child has a seizure during a high fever, cool the child slowly with lukewarm water. Do not place the child in a cold bath. You can give the child acetaminophen (Tylenol) once he or she is awake, especially if the child has had fever convulsions before.