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What are seizures and epilepsy?
A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It can cause jerking movements, changes in behavior, changes in feelings and may affect levels of consciousness. A seizure is usually a single episode. When there are two or more seizures or recurrent seizures, the condition is called epilepsy. Most seizures may not have a clear cause, while others can occur due to high fever, stroke, head injury, infection or inflammation of the brain, and major illnesses. Childhood seizure disorders like Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut are often a result of harmful genetic mutations, but not always.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where brain activities are abnormal, causing more than one or recurrent episodes of seizures.
What is the treatment for seizures and epilepsy?
Most cases of seizures can be managed conservatively with medication and supportive treatments. Surgery may be required to treat some cases of epilepsy. The treatment plan depends on the type and severity of seizure, age of the patient and the frequency of episodes. Many require lifelong treatment while others experience complete resolution. Children with epilepsy may outgrow the condition as they get older. Treatment of underlying medical conditions causing seizures is required.
- Medication: Antiseizure medications like valproic acid, carbamazepine, ethosuximide, etc. may be prescribed by the physician. Dosage would depend on the severity.
- Vagus nerve stimulation: A device is implanted beneath the skin of the chest that stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck. Stimulating the vagus nerve sends signals to the brain to inhibit seizures.
- Responsive neurostimulation: A device is implanted on the surface of the brain or within the brain tissue to detect abnormal brain activity and electrically stimulate the detected area to stop the seizure.
- Deep brain stimulation: Electrodes are implanted within certain areas of the brain and they produce electrical impulses that regulate abnormal brain activity.
- Diet: A diet rich in fat and low in carbohydrates, also called a ketogenic/keto diet, can improve seizure disorders.
- Surgery: The goal of surgery is to stop seizures from happening. Surgeons locate and remove the area of your brain where seizures begin. Surgery works best for people who have seizures that always originate from the same place in their brains.
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Pregnancy and seizures
Women with seizures/epilepsy can have healthy pregnancies. There is a risk of birth defects associated with certain antiseizure medications, especially valproic acid. The physician would prescribe appropriate medication and adjust the dosage during pregnancy.
Contraception and antiseizure medications
What Causes Seizures in Young Children?
Childhood seizure disorders mostly have an underlying genetic cause, but some are not easily classifiable. Some childhood epilepsy syndromes are
- Doose syndrome (myoclonic-atonic epilepsy),
- Lennox-Gastaut syndrome,
- Dravet syndrome (severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy)
- Benign neonatal myoclonic epilepsy
- Familial myoclonic epilepsy
- Autosomal dominant cortical myoclonus and epilepsies
- Unverricht-Lundborg disease
- Lafora body disease
- Myoclonic epilepsy with ragged red fibers (MERRF)
- The neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, sialidosis, and dentate-rubral-pallidoluysian atrophy (DRPLA).
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It is important to take medications as prescribed by the doctor alongside lifestyle modifications.
- Get adequate sleep: Inadequate rest/sleep can trigger seizures.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet.
- Get regular physical activity to help reduce stress and improve overall physical and mental health.
- Maintain adequate hydration.
- Manage physical and mental stress.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Avoid cigarette smoking.
- Avoid recreational drugs.
- Avoid places with bright and blinking lights, like nightclubs.
Personal safety measures
The following measures can help reduce the risk of injury during a seizure.
- Avoid swimming, being in a boat, etc. alone.
- Take showers instead of using a bathtub.
- Wear a helmet while riding or playing high-risk sports.
- Modify furniture by padding sharp edges; avoid low furniture like footstools to prevent tripping and carpet the floor to reduce the impact during falls.
- Carry or display seizure first-aid tips at home or work.
- Avoid wearing clothes that are tight around the neck.
Seizure first aid
The following steps can help a person during a seizure.
- Shout for help or contact the doctor immediately
- The person should be rolled onto their side.
- Something soft should be placed under their head.
- Any tight neckwear, scarves, etc. should be loosened.
- No objects or fingers should be placed in the mouth of a person having a seizure.
- Avoid holding or restraining a person having a seizure because it can cause injuries.
- Remove dangerous objects from around the person.
- Someone should closely observe the person during the seizure and stay with them until medical help arrives.
- The duration of the seizure should be recorded.
What are the symptoms of a seizure?
Most episodes of seizures last around 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. If they last longer than 5 minutes, it’s a medical emergency. The signs and symptoms are involuntary and the severity varies depending on the type of seizure.
Seizures are broadly classified into focal and generalized.
- Focal seizures: This is when there is abnormal brain activity in one particular part of the brain.
- Focal seizures with loss of awareness/consciousness: This presents with blank staring and repetitive movements like chewing with loss of awareness/consciousness.
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness: This presents with a change in taste, smell, or emotions, jerking of the hands or legs, giddiness, and flashes of light.
- Generalized seizures: These seizures involve all areas of the brain. The following are different types of generalized seizures and their symptoms
- Absence seizures (petit mal seizures): Staring blankly into space or body movements like smacking lips and loss of awareness.
- Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures): This is the most dramatic type of seizures, with body stiffness, jerking, tongue biting, loss of bladder control, vomiting, and even loss of consciousness.
- Myoclonic seizures: Sudden jerking or twitching of the arms and legs.
- Dravet syndrome (formerly called Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI): is a rare, genetic form of epilepsy that begins in infancy characterized by prolonged and frequent seizures. Infants may also have behavioral and developmental delays, problems with movement and balance, speech problems and delayed language development, and growth issues. Mutations in SCN1A gene are seen in about 80% of infants with Dravet.
- Atonic seizures (drop seizures): Loss of muscle tone, causing a fall.
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Top Epilepsy and Seizures: How to Treat Related Articles
Can the Vagus Nerve Cause Seizures?The vagus nerve is an important pathway to the brain in addition to helping to control seizures. Stimulation of the vagus nerve leads to the discharge of electrical energy into a wide area of the brain, disturbing the abnormal brain activity that causes seizures. The vagus nerve is used to treat seizures that do not respond to medications.
Epidiolex (cannabidiol)Epidiolex is a prescription medicine that is used to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex in people 1 year of age and older. It is not known if Epidiolex is safe and effective in children under 1 year of age.
Seizures QuizDo you know the difference between seizures and epilepsy? What are the types of seizures? Take the Epilepsy & Seizures Quiz to test your knowledge and learn about this complex disorder of the brain.
Epilepsy SlideshowLearn about epilepsy stages, symptoms and treatment for this disorder of the brain's electrical system. Epileptic seizures cause brief impulses in movement, behavior, sensation or awareness that may cause brain damage.
Epilepsy TreatmentEpileptic seizures mostly controlled through drug therapy, particularly anticonvulsant drugs. Types of treatment prescribed depends on several factors including the frequency and severity of the seizures as well as the person's age, overall health and medical history. Other forms of treatment options also exist including ketogenic diet and electrical stimulation.
Febrile SeizuresFebrile seizures, or convulsions caused by fever, can be frightening in small children or infants. However, in general, febrile seizures are harmless. Febrile seizure is not epilepsy. It is estimated that one in every 25 children will have at least one febrile seizure. It is important to know what to do to help your child if he/she has a febrile seizure. Some of the features of a febrile seizure include:
- losing consciousness,
- moving limbs on both sides of the body,
- lasts 1-2 minutes.
First Aid for SeizuresSome seizures are caused by:
- brain diseases,
- genetic conditions, or
- other illnesses or disorders that can be diagnosed (symptomatic seizures).
- foods or medications,
- lack of sleep,
- dehydration, or
- sensitivity to light.
Fludeoxyglucose F 18 InjectionFludeoxyglucose F 18 Injection (fdg) is a positron emitting radiopharmaceutical used for diagnostic purposes in conjunction with Positron Emission Tomography (PET). It is also used to assist assessment of cancer, coronary artery disease, or epileptic seizures.
Migraines and Seizures (Symptoms, Auras, Medication)Migraines are a type of headache and seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy. Migraine headaches and seizures are two different neurological problems that have similar signs, symptoms, and auras, for example, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound, irritability, nausea, and vomiting.
Symptoms unique to migraine and migraine auras are water retention, problems sleeping, appetite changes, and talkativeness. Symptoms unique to seizure and seizures auras are depression, a feeling of heaviness, a feeling that a seizure is approaching, and depression.
Many of the symptoms of migraine and seizures are the same, however, seizures do not cause migraines; however, people who have seizures are twice as likely to have migraines and vice-versa. People who have migraines are twice as likely to have seizures, and people with seizures are twice as likely to have migraines; however, one condition does not cause the other.
Pediatric Epilepsy SurgeryThere are many different brain disorders associated with epilepsy in children including congenital or acquired. There are three types of pediatric epilepsy surgery:
- resective epilepsy surgery,
- corpus callosotomy, and
- vagus nerve stimulation.
Seizure (Epilepsy)Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which the person has seizures. There are two kinds of seizures, focal and generalized. There are many causes of epilepsy. Treatment of epilepsy (seizures) depends upon the cause and type of seizures experienced.
Seizure vs. Seizure Disorders (Differences and Similarities)
The differences between a seizure, epilepsy, and seizure disorders are confusing to many people. What makes it more confusing, is that they are not the same thing. A seizure begins suddenly, and is a symptom of another disease. When a seizure occurs there is uncontrolled activity in the brain that usually only lasts for a short period. While a seizure disorder is a medical condition, in which the person has episodes of uncontrolled activity in the brain producing symptoms that include one or more seizures. Epilepsy is considered a seizure disorder.
There are two types of major seizures, generalized and partial seizure type and the symptoms depend upon the part of the brain affected, and may include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Thought disturbances
- Eye rolling
- Stiff limbs
- Twitching on only one side or a portion of the body like an arm or leg.
- Involuntary urination or bowel movement
- Repetitive shaking or jerking of the body
- Staring into space, sometimes with eye blinking
- No loss of consciousness, but the person becomes confused for a few minutes
A third type of seizure is called unclassified seizure.
Seizure disorders are classified under two types of major seizures (generalized and partial), and a third type called unclassified seizures. There are about 40 types of named seizure disorders. The symptoms and signs are different depending on the part of the brain affected by the seizure. Examples of seizure disorders are:
- Febrile seizures
- Benign Rolandic epilepsy
- Catamenial epilepsy
- Absence seizures
- Frontal lobe epilepsy
Sometimes there is a known cause for a seizure like alcohol, cocaine or other illegal drug abuse, drug reactions, a severe chemical imbalance in the blood, or medical problems like low blood pressure. Treatment, management, and prevention of seizures include medication and avoiding any known causes or common triggers.
CDC. "Types of Seizures." Updated: Apr 10, 2017.
Harvard Health Publications; Harvard Medical School. "Generalized Seizures (Grand Mal Seizures)."
Seizures Symptoms and TypesSeizures are divided into two categories: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures are produced by electrical impulses from throughout the brain, while partial seizures are produced by electrical impulses in a small part of the brain. Seizure symptoms include unconsciousness, convulsions, and muscle rigidity.
Surgical Options for EpilepsyEpilepsy is mostly treatable with medication, but this method is not effective for about 30% of patients. In some cases, brain surgery may be an option. Epilepsy surgery is an operation on the brain to control seizures and improve the person's quality of life.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) for Seizures
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a technique used to treat epilepsy. It involves implanting a pacemaker-like device that generates pulses of electricity to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the 12 cranial nerves, the paired nerves that attach to the undersurface of the brain and relay information to and from the brain.
What Causes Myoclonic Seizures in Babies?Epileptic syndromes that cause myoclonic seizures usually begin in early childhood, and last throughout life, though milder forms may improve with adulthood. Doose syndrome (myoclonic-atonic epilepsy), Dravet syndrome (severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy [SMEI]) and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome are all childhood epilepsy syndromes that may cause seizures in babies and toddlers.
Xcopri (cenobamate)Xcopri is a prescription medicine used to treat partial-onset seizures in adults. It is not known if Xcopri is safe and effective in children. Xcopri contains cenobamate and is listed as a Schedule V controlled substance.