Overview

Seizures happen when your brain cells, which communicate through electrical signals, send out the wrong signals. Having just one seizure does not mean you have epilepsy. Generally, several seizures are needed before there is a diagnosis of epilepsy.

Epilepsy can happen at any age, but it is most common in the elderly. Many children with epilepsy outgrow the condition. However, even mild seizures that happen more than once should be treated. Seizures can be very dangerous if they happen while you are driving, walking, or swimming, for example.

Seizure

A seizure is an abnormal electrical discharge that occurs in your brain. Usually brain cells, or neurons, flow in an organized fashion along the surface of your brain. A seizure occurs when there is an excess of electrical activity.

Seizure Disorder

Typically, you are diagnosed with a seizure disorder once you’ve had two or more “unprovoked” seizures. Unprovoked seizures have what are considered natural causes, such as genetic factors or metabolic imbalances in your body.

“Provoked” seizures are triggered by a specific event like a brain injury or stroke. To be diagnosed with epilepsy or a seizure disorder, you need to have at least two unprovoked seizures.

Seizures are classified into two primary types: partial seizures, also called focal seizures, and generalized seizures. Both can be associated with seizure disorders.

Partial Seizures

Partial, or focal, seizures begin in a specific part of your brain. If they originate on one side of your brain and spread to other areas, they are called simple partial seizures. If they begin in an area of your brain that affects consciousness, they are called complex partial seizures.

Simple partial seizures have symptoms including:

Complex partial seizures can cause similar symptoms, and may also lead to loss of consciousness.

Generalized seizures

Generalized seizures begin on both sides of your brain at the same time. Because these seizures spread quickly, it can be difficult to tell where they originated. This makes certain kinds of treatments more difficult.

There are several different types of generalized seizures, each with their own symptoms:

Febrile seizures

Another type of seizure is a febrile seizure that occurs in infants as the result of a fever. About one in every 25 children, between the ages of 6 months to 5 years, has a febrile seizure. Generally, children who have febrile seizures don’t need to be hospitalized, but if the seizure is prolonged, your doctor may order hospitalization to observe your child.

Signs and Symptoms

Many different symptoms happen during a seizure. This new classification separates them simply into groups that involve movement.

For generalized onset seizures:

For focal onset seizures:

For unknown onset seizures:

Causes

Cause Examples
High fever Heatstroke

Infections

Brain infections Abscess

AIDS

Malaria

Meningitis

Rabies

Syphilis

Tetanus

Toxoplasmosis

Viral encephalitis

Metabolic disorders High blood levels of sugar or sodium

Low blood levels of sugar, calcium, magnesium, or sodium

Other disorders Kidney failure or liver failure, which can lead to dysfunction of the brain (encephalopathy)

An underactive parathyroid gland

Vitamin B6 deficiency (in newborns)

Inadequate oxygen supply to the brain Abnormal heart rhythms

Cardiac arrest

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Near drowning

Near suffocation

Stroke

Vasculitis

Structural damage to the brain Brain tumor (noncancerous or cancerous)

Head injury

Hydrocephalus

Intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding within the skull)

Stroke

Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia

Abnormalities present or occurring at birth Birth defect

Hereditary metabolic disorders, such as Tay-Sachs disease or phenylketonuria

Injury during birth

Fluid accumulation in the brain (cerebral edema) Eclampsia

Hypertensive encephalopathy

Lupus

Prescription drugs* Buspirone (used to treat anxiety disorders)

Camphor

*Chlorpromazine (used to treat schizophrenia)

Ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic)

Chloroquine (used to treat malaria)

Clozapine (usually used to treat schizophrenia)

Cyclosporine (used to prevent and treat rejection of organ transplants)

Imipenem (an antibiotic)

*Indomethacin (used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation)

*Meperidine (used to relieve pain)

*Phenytoin

Theophylline (used to treat asthma and other airway disorders)

Tricyclic antidepressants

Recreational drugs Amphetamines

Cocaine (overdose)

Withdrawal of a drug after heavy use Alcohol

General anesthetics (used during surgery)

Sedatives, including sleep aids

Exposure to toxins Lead

Strychnine

*Various drugs can cause seizures if too much is taken. Some drugs can also lower the seizure threshold

†Phenytoin, used to treat seizure disorders, can cause seizures if too much is taken.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will do blood tests and an electroencephalogram (EEG), which records the electrical activity in your brain. You may also have a computerized tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Treatment

Medicines

Your doctor may prescribe medicines called antiepileptics, which aim to alter or reduce excess electrical activity in your brain. Some of the many kinds of these medicines include phenytoin and carbamazepine.

Surgery

Surgery may be another treatment option if you have partial seizures that aren’t helped by medicine. The goal of surgery is to remove the part of your brain where your seizures begin.

Nutrition and Supplements

A ketogenic diet. A diet that is high in fat and low in protein and carbohydrates — may help control the frequency of seizures. This type of diet is most commonly used in children, and seems to work better for children than adults. If you are on a ketogenic diet, your doctor should monitor you both for side effects and effectiveness. You may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements, because this diet is very restricted. DO NOT attempt a ketogenic diet on your own. Work with your physician to make sure you are doing it safely.

Some studies have shown a connection between food allergies and seizures in some children. But the evidence is not clear. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and any supplements that have stimulating effects. A holistically-oriented health care provider may help you identify possible food allergies.

Some supplements may make certain antiseizure medications less effective. Ask your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.

Herbs

Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. (5 g) herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.

Many of the herbs used to treat seizures have sedative effects, and they interact with other herbs, supplements, and prescription medications. Take these herbs only under a doctor’s supervision. It is important for a health care professional to monitor side effects and interactions. Most of these herbs have been used traditionally for seizures, but lack scientific evidence showing they work.

DO NOT take the following herbs:

Avoid these essential oils:

Homeopathy

Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for seizure disorders based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person’s constitutional type, includes your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.

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