A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled burst of electrical activity in the brain that can result in an episode of unusual behavior, movement, sensation, and level of consciousness. Seizures affect people differently and cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on which part of the brain is affected.
What Causes A Seizure?
Nerve cells in the brain create, send, and receive electrical impulses, allowing them to communicate. If anything disrupts the communication pathways, it can lead to a seizure. There are many different types of seizures, which can cause different symptoms and range in severity. The type of seizure depends on where it begins in the brain and how far it spreads.
The most common cause of seizures is epilepsy, which is a disorder of the brain. Sometimes, however, the cause of a seizure is unknown or it may be caused or triggered by other factors, such as:
- A closed head injury (causing bleeding in the skull)
- Illness/high fever
- An infection, such as meningitis
- Certain medications
- Lack of sleep
- Visual stimulants, such as flashing lights
- Blood vessel abnormalities in the brain
- Low blood sodium
- Autoimmune disorder
- Alcohol intoxication or illegal drug use
- Brain tumor
Symptoms of a seizure typically last for a few minutes, can range from mild to severe, and may include:
- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Violent muscle contractions or uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Emotional or cognitive symptoms, such as anxiety, fear, anger, or déjà vu
Seizures are typically classified into two groups, generalized and focal seizures, depending on how and where the abnormal brain activity originates.
Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain. Types of generalized seizures can include:
- Absence seizures, which cause rapid blinking or staring into space for a brief period of time.
- Tonic-clonic seizures, which can make a person cry out, lose consciousness, fall to the ground, or experience muscle spasms or jerks, which is then followed by tiredness.
Focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, typically involve just one area of the brain. Different types of focal seizures can include:
- Simple focal seizures, which involve a small part of the brain and may result in twitching or a change in sensation, such as altered taste, smell, or sound. May also cause nausea, sweating, flushed skin, and dilated pupils.
- Complex focal seizures, which can cause confusion and prevent a person from being able to respond to questions or directions for up to a few minutes. The person may also perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, mouth movements, walking in circles, or repeating certain words.
- Secondary generalized seizures, which start in one area of the brain but spread to both sides of the brain, can cause a generalized seizure.
When To Seek Medical Help
Seizures are more common than you might realize, and not all seizures are emergencies. You should keep track of how long one lasts and call 911 if a seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, or if:
- Breathing or consciousness doesn’t return when the seizure stops
- The person gets injured while having the seizure
- A second seizure occurs immediately
- The person has a high fever, is pregnant, has diabetes, or is experiencing heat exhaustion
If you experience a seizure for the first time, you should contact your doctor. Further investigation may be necessary to determine the cause of the seizure and to evaluate the likelihood of it occurring again. Tests may include:
- Neurological exam
- Blood test
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- MRI scan
- CT scan
- PET scan
- SPECT test
A seizure can be an isolated incident, and therefore, treatment may not always be necessary. Prescription medication is often necessary for people with epilepsy in order to control seizures. Surgery may be an option for some individuals, depending on the type of abnormal brain activity and severity of symptoms.
Although some people may require lifelong treatment, others may eventually outgrow the condition.
Treatment for Seizures and Epilepsy in Southeast Michigan
If you or a loved one has suffered seizure symptoms, speak to the board-certified specialists at Associates in Neurology. We have the necessary skills and advanced technology to properly diagnose your condition and recommend the best course of treatment.