Seizures: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Seizures represent sudden and uncontrollable electrical changes in the brain. It can affect your behaviour, posture, gate and consciousness.
Two or more seizures indicate the chances of getting more. And if you have the tendency to get more seizures than there are chances that you have epilepsy.
Medicines can be very useful in treatment of seizures but proper management can improve your over all well being. The best part is you can work with your doctor to maintain a balance between effects of seizures and side effects of medicines.
Types of seizures
Severity and signs of a seizure varies depending on the type of seizure. The type of seizure depends on where and how they are initiated in your brain.
They mostly last from 30 seconds up to 2 minutes. But a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes becomes a medical emergency.
There are two groups of seizures, focal or generalised, which depend on the reason and location of disturbance caused in your brain. Sometimes the reason of seizure is not known and it is referred to as unknown onset.
Focal seizures occur due to problem in one specific area of brain. The seizures can take place with or without loss of consciousness.
- Focal seizures with loss of consciousness include impairment in your awareness. You may not be able to respond to your environment normally like you used to. You are unable to walk, look around, chew or perform repetitive movements.
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness include changes in emotions and your five senses of smell, taste, touch, looking and hearing but your awareness remains unaffected. This can also result in repeated uncontrolled movements of your body parts like legs or arms, and uncontrolled sensory symptoms including tingling and flashing lights.
The symptoms of focal seizures are often mixed with diseases like migraine, narcolepsy, mental illnesses like schizophrenia or other neurological disorders.
Generalised seizures occur due to problem that involve all areas of brain.
It’s different types include,
- Absence seizures were previously called petit mal seizures and they include brief loss of awareness like staring into space and delicate movements like eye blinking.
- Tonic seizures involves stiff muscles usually affecting the muscles in your back area or limb muscles. Thus, it can affect your gate and posture, and even cause you to fall down on the ground.
- Atonic seizures involve damage to your muscle control and often results in you suddenly falling down on the ground. It is also called drop seizures.
- Clonic seizures involve the repetitive recurrent uncontrolled movements of muscles, usually involving the muscles of your neck, face and limbs.
- Myoclonic seizures involve the abrupt small jerking movements or twitches in the muscles of your arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures are the most prominent and serious to observe type of epileptic seizure. It is also called grand mal seizure and it affects your awareness, ability to control urine, stiffening of body muscles and jerking movements or tongue bite in some cases.
Unknown onset seizure
It is difficult to find the reason for unknown onset seizures, hence called unknown. You may wake up at night and find your partner having seizure.
These are grouped separately in this category due to lack of information about why the started in the first place.
What causes a seizure?
Nerves in our brain produce, transmit and collect electrical impulses, allowing the brain cells communication. Anything affecting this communication results in a seizure.
The incidence rate of seizures is more than you think. Seizures can occur either as a result of stroke, traumatic brain injury, a brain infection or some other disease.
Generally it is difficult to find the reason for seizures.
Seizures can result from a variety of conditions that affect our health. It is logical to say that what affects our body, also has the tendency to disturb our brain and cause a seizure as a consequence.
Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizure and it includes failure to release electrical signals. They can affect your behaviour and perception about the things around you.
Other causes for seizure may include,
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Brain tumors
- Imbalance of electrolyte
- Extremely low sugar levels in blood
- Medicines like pain killers, antipsychotics or drugs for asthma
- Withdrawal symptoms of medicines or drugs
- Use of narcotics like cocaine, heroin
- High fever causing brain infections such as meningitis
- Lack of sleep
- Kidney or liver failure
Seizures can pass from parents to children. Therefore, it is important to tell your family history to your doctor.
It is sometimes difficult to find the reason for a seizure, specially in children.
Seizures symptoms and complications
As discussed earlier, the signs and symptoms of seizures depend majorly on the type of seizure.
The focal and generalised seizures can either co-occur or one happens before the other. The symptoms last from 30 seconds up to 15 minutes during each episode.
The symptoms can appear even before the seizure itself.
Some common symptoms that occur before the appearance of seizure,
- Feeling stiffness in your arms and legs muscles or uncontrolled movements.
- Startled and confused
- Stuck staring into space
- Rapid change in emotions like fear etc
- Breathlessness, sweating and nausea
- Changes in your sense of vision
Some symptoms indicating the occurrence of seizure,
- Losing the control over your body and falling on the ground
- Spasms of the muscles of your arms and legs
- Symptoms of drooling and frothing
- Loss of awareness about your surroundings
- Sudden changes in mood
- Uncontrollable movements of your tongue, lips or eyes
- Clenching your teeth and biting your tongue
- Rapid blinking or facial twitches
The symptoms can get worse gradually if seizures are not treated properly. So, it is important to treat them as long seizures can often lead to coma or death in sever cases.
Injuries can also result from seizure as a result of falling down and other symptoms of seizures.
Therefore, it is recommended to wear a seizure identification bracelet, to help others know that you have epilepsy.
Some other complications that can result from epilepsy include,
- Falling down. Accidental falls can lead to injuries including head and other bones.
- Accidental drowning. Having a seizure while swimming or taking a bath can lead to accidental drowing which can be life threatening in the absence of emergency support.
- Driving a car. Occurrence of seizure while driving a car can lead to road accidents which are not only dangerous for your own-self, but for others too.
- Seizure and pregnancy. If you have epilepsy and you are pregnant then prioritise planning and adjusting your medications after talking to your doctor. It is also important to properly monitor yourself and baby throughout your pregnancy as seizures can cause great harm to both.
- Psychological aspect. Psychological problems, like depression and anxiety, are observed in people with epilepsy. It may be due to challenges that come with this disease or can be due to the side effects of psychological medication.
Identifying the type of seizure can be difficult for your doctor as the reason for some seizures can’t be identified.
Your doctor may recommend some tests but the initial diagnosis usually includes your doctor asking details about your seizure and perform an in-depth examination.
This will include questions related to your psychological, emotional health and also the subjective testing of your movements and mental abilities.
In order to assure the effectiveness of treatment, doctors recommend different tests for seizure diagnosis which may include,
- Blood tests are important in identifying infections in overall body or a spinal tap can also be helpful.
- Electroencephalography (EEG) helps in providing a visual representation of electrical activity in your brain and provides better chances for detailed assessment.
- Imaging tests which may include a CT, MRI or PET scan can prove to be really valuable in identifying the problem in your brain.
However, if you are having recurrent seizures then you doctor may recommend you another test which involves insertion of electric rods in to your brain through small holes.
This can also be regarded as the very first step of surgery for epilepsy.
Best available treatment for seizures
Although, there is possibility that you only get one seizure in your life and do not need any type of treatment.
But, if your seizures continue to occur in recurrent series then your doctor may treat them in a variety of ways.
The treatment of seizures depend on their cause and while controlling the occurrence of seizures, it is important to treat the cause first.
Your doctor may recommend treating seizures through,
The medicines used to treat seizure can result in serious side effects.
So, it is important to consider all the available options and communicating with your doctor to try a few medicines before and then choose the one with least side-effects.
The different types of scans assess the location of a seizure in brain and if the seizure comes from a same place then the doctor can remove that particular part through surgery.
This can reduce the occurrence of seizures.
Stimulation of vagus nerve
The longest nerve in the skull that is vagus nerve goes all the way from your brain to your stomach.
Thus surgically inserting a medical device to improve conduction of signals can help in reducing seizures.
You still might need to take medications even after that.
Responsive nerve stimulation
It consists of a device that is surgically implanted in your brain and help in finding and stoping seizures.
Deep brain stimulation
A pacemaker like machine is implanted in your chest by a surgeon and then electrode are place in specific areas of brain. It can send electrical impulses to those specific brain areas and stop a seizure.
Therefore, it is important to go for regular check ups, if you are facing any of the above symptoms. Proper management of seizures can help along with control and treatment.
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