Seizures happen when the brain’s electrical impulses are suddenly disrupted, which interrupts messaging to the spine, nerves and muscles. During a seizure, a person may simply stop moving, stare into space, experience unusual tastes or smells, have uncontrollable twitching or lose consciousness. Seizures typically come on suddenly and can vary in length and severity.
Seizure types are categorized as either generalized, involving both sides of the brain, or partial, which start in a specific area of the brain and may spread to the entire brain.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care in diagnosing, treating and managing seizures. Our 24/7 inpatient neurology and neurosurgery services, as well as our outpatient services, Home Health, physical and occupational therapy services are available for treatment of seizures. In addition, we have the region’s only advanced 3Tesla, MRI, MRI spectroscopy and functional MRI technology to accurately diagnose all manner of neurologic disease, including seizures.
You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Seizure symptoms and signs vary by seizure type and can include:
- Grand Mal or tonic-clonic seizure with unconsciousness, convulsions and muscle rigidity
- Absence seizure with brief loss of consciousness, prolonged staring spells
- Myoclonic seizure with sporadic jerking movements
- Clonic seizure with repetitive jerking movements
- Tonic seizure with muscle stiffness and rigidity
- Atonic seizure with loss of muscle tone
- Simple partial seizure with jerking, stiffening or weakness of one body part; experience unusual tastes or smells, numbness or ringing in the ears; trouble understanding speech or the written word
- Complex partial seizure with staring into space; repetitive, uncontrolled movement like lip smacking, walking or chewing
If you have had a seizure, it is important to be evaluated to determine if there is an underlying cause, such as an infection, or if you have a seizure disorder. To diagnose seizure types or a seizure disorder, we use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Cerebrospinal fluid test: In special circumstances, such as when meningitis is suspected, a cerebrospinal fluid examination may be performed. During this test, the spine is numbed and a thin needle is injected to collect a small sample of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid can be tested for biomarkers that indicate the likelihood of a condition that causes seizures.
CT scan: X-rays and computers are used to create images of the brain. This provides a more detailed picture than an ultrasound.
Electroencephalogram (EEG): In this test, sensors are attached to the head with sticky tape. The sensors are hooked up to a special computer that can record the brain’s electrical activity.
Interviews with friends and family: These interviews help the physician understand about your behavior before, during and after an episode that may have been a seizure.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce detailed pictures of the brain.
Physical exam: A check-up for reflexes, coordination, balance, sight and hearing, as well as a family history.
Often, the cause of seizures is unknown. However, seizures can happen because of:
- Medications and withdrawal from medications
- Use of drugs like cocaine and heroin
- Very low blood sugar
Risk factors that could contribute to seizures include:
Infections: Brain infections like meningitis and other infections with fever can cause seizures.
Brain injury or tumor: Trauma, stroke or a tumor on the brain can cause seizures.
Cancer: Cancer outside the brain can cause seizures.
While some risk factors like infections cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent a seizure:
Protect your head: Head injury can cause seizures. Always wear your seatbelt when in a car; where a helmet when biking, skiing, horseback riding or rock climbing; wear a hard hat if you work in construction; and do not dive into shallow water.
Limit exposure to flashing lights: Data show that long exposure to the flashing screens on video games can cause seizures.
Take your medications as prescribed: If you are diagnosed with a seizure disorder, be sure to take your medications as directed.
Experiencing a seizure does not necessarily mean you have a seizure disorder, or that you will experience another seizure. Prognosis depends upon the underlying cause of the seizure, its type and individual response to treatment.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment is typically focused on the cause of the seizure in order to stop or control seizures. Treatment can include:
Seizure medications to prevent convulsions may be prescribed, specific to the type of seizure.
Some seizures respond well to a ketogenic diet which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
Some seizure conditions require surgery to remove the section of the brain where the seizures happen, or to interrupt the nerve pathways where abnormal electrical activity happens.
Some people with seizures benefit from vagus nerve stimulation, in which a physician inserts a device similar to a heart pacemaker under the skin of the chest. This battery-powered device sends bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve to the brain, inhibiting seizures. Another type of device that can help people with seizures is a responsive neurostimulation device. This device is implanted under the scalp to monitor brain signals and provide stimulation when abnormal electrical events happen.
Recovery After Surgery
Recovery from surgery for seizures depends upon the procedure and your health prior to the surgery. For device implants, you may be in the hospital overnight before going home. If you have brain surgery, you may be in the hospital for up to a week and recovery occurs gradually over one to three months. Before leaving the hospital, your physician will discuss your follow-up plan, which will include checkups at regular intervals. In addition, it is important you follow all directions regarding any prescribed medications.
Sometimes, seizures can present complications, including:
Injuries: A seizure can cause a person to fall, which can dislocate joints, cause fractures or head injuries.
Changes in brain structure and function: The longer a seizure lasts and/or the frequency can affect how the brain functions.
Restrictions on activities: Certain seizure disorders can make it dangerous for a person to drive or operate equipment.
Next Steps with MyChart
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