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Epilepsy is a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures. This page will explore the symptoms, signs, and ways to diagnose a seizure. You can take the appropriate steps to get relief and treatment for your loved one. 

What are Seizures?

A seizure can be a sudden attack of muscle stiffness, twitching, or loss of awareness that lasts for at least a few seconds. There are several types of seizures: focal (localized to one part of the brain), generalizable (spread throughout the whole brain), myoclonic (involving sudden just-one-firmness jerks), and tonic-clonic (combination of both). 

Most start with a warning sign, such as feeling confused, having trouble focusing on things, or seeing strange objects. These warning signs may precede an actual seizure by minutes or hours. Suppose you notice any warning signs before a seizure. In that case, it is important to call your doctor immediately so that they can determine what kind of seizure it is and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

There are several ways to diagnose a seizure: by history (asking about symptoms and events leading up to the seizure), by physical examination (looking for changes in mood or behavior during a seizure), or by using diagnostic tests (such as electroencephalogram [EEG], MRI scan, or CT scan). Some people require only medication to control their seizures, while others may need surgery or rehabilitation to regain function after a seizure.

Seizures

Types of Seizures

Focal seizures

These result from abnormal electrical activity in one part of your brain. Focal seizures can occur with or without loss of consciousness:

  • Focal seizures with impaired awareness. These involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness that feels like being in a dream. You may seem awake, but you stare into space and do not normally respond to your environment or perform repetitive movements. These may include hand rubbing, mouth movements, repeating certain words, or walking in circles. You may not remember the seizure or even know that it occurred.
  • Focal seizures without loss of consciousness. These may alter emotions or change how things look, smell, feel, taste or sound, but you don’t lose consciousness. You may suddenly feel angry, joyful, or sad. Some people have nausea or unusual feelings that are difficult to describe. These may also result in difficulty speaking, involuntary jerking of a body part, such as an arm or a leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms, such as tingling, dizziness, and seeing flashing lights.

Symptoms may be confused with other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy, or mental illness.

Generalized seizures

Generalized Seizures appear to involve all brain areas. Different types of generalized seizures include:

  • Absence seizures. Absence seizures, previously known as petit mal seizures, often occur in children and are characterized by staring into space or subtle body movements, such as eye blinking or lip smacking. They usually last for five to 10 seconds but may happen hundreds of times per day. These may occur in clusters and cause a brief loss of awareness.
  • Tonic seizures. Tonic seizures cause stiffening of your muscles. These usually affect muscles in your back, arms, and legs and may cause you to lose consciousness and fall to the ground.
  • Atonic seizures. Atonic seizures, also known as drop seizures, cause a loss of muscle control, which may cause you to collapse, fall or drop your head suddenly.
  • Clonic seizures. Clonic seizures are associated with repeated or rhythmic, jerking muscle movements. These usually affect the neck, face, and arms on both sides of the body.
  • Myoclonic seizures. Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden, brief jerks or twitches of your arms and legs. There is often no loss of consciousness.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures, previously known as grand mal seizures, are the most dramatic type of epileptic seizure and can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness, body stiffening and shaking, and sometimes loss of bladder control or biting your tongue. They may last for several minutes.

Causes

There are many causes, but the most common ones are brain tumors, strokes, and head injuries. Sometimes seizures can be caused by problems with the electrical signals that control brain activity, and other times they can be caused by problems with the brain’s nerve cells (brain cells that communicate with each other).

The primary symptom of a seizure is usually a sudden change in your level of consciousness or awareness. Other symptoms may include: shaking or trembling, loss of muscle control, trouble speaking or swallowing, feeling faint or lightheadedness, seeing flashes of light (called “auras”), and an intense feeling of fear or anxiety.

Other symptoms

-A sudden change in behavior or mood, often including confusion or loss of consciousness

-The person may suddenly start twitching or shaking uncontrollably

-The person may have a blank look on their face,

-Pale skin and saliva leaking from the mouth or nose

-Loud noises or screaming during or after the seizure

How to recognize a seizure?

There are many ways to recognize a seizure, but the most common are sudden changes in behavior, muscle twitching, and lasting more than five minutes. Other symptoms may include confusion, temporary loss of consciousness, or staring during a seizure. Sometimes people will have an aura before a seizure starts – this is a period before a person has a seizure; they might feel confused or like they’re going to fall asleep. During the seizure, they might become rigid or convulsions (jerking movements). Afterward, they might be dehydrated and have a headache. Diagnostic tests can also be done to help identify a seizure.

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate medical help if any of the following occurs:

  • The seizure lasts more than five minutes.
  • Breathing or consciousness doesn’t return after the seizure stops.
  • A second seizure follows immediately.
  • You have a high fever.
  • You’re experiencing heat exhaustion.
  • You’re pregnant.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You’ve injured yourself during the seizure.

If you experience a seizure for the first time, seek medical advice, call 911 or visit your nearest urgent care.

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