What is a seizure disorder?
Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical signals. A seizure disorder is a problem that causes a person to have seizures.
The brain is made up of nerve cells. Nerve cells talk to each other through electrical signals. Seizures happen if too many nerve cells send signals all at once.
During a seizure, a person may:
Fall down and start shaking
Become unconscious or confused
Usually after a few minutes, the nerve cells start to behave normally and the person returns to normal.
Call 911 for emergency medical help or go to the hospital right away if a person has a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes.
Medicines can help prevent seizures
Epilepsy is one type of seizure disorder
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that causes you to keep having seizures.
Some people who have a seizure will never have another and don't have epilepsy. People with epilepsy have many seizures, but the number of seizures varies. Some people with epilepsy have only 1 or 2 seizures a year. Some have seizures every day.
What causes a seizure disorder?
Most of the time doctors don't know what makes a person have a seizure disorder.
If your first seizure happens when you're a baby, the cause is usually different than if your first seizure happens when you're an adult.
If the first seizure happens before age 2, common causes are:
Problems with the body's chemical balance, called metabolic disorders
A birth defect of the brain
Lack of oxygen during birth
Use of certain drugs by the mother while pregnant
If the first seizure happens after age 18, common causes are:
Suddenly stopping heavy drinking of alcohol (withdrawal)
If you have only 1 seizure, it's most often caused by:
Lack of sleep
Low blood levels of oxygen or sugar
Seizures can be caused by flashing lights or video games (reflex epilepsy), but this is rare.
What happens during a seizure?
You may have symptoms before a seizure (called an aura). You may notice:
Feeling of déjà vu (a feeling like something happening right now has happened before)
Feeling like you're about to have a seizure
During a seizure, you aren't aware of what's going on and can't talk or respond. However, you're still breathing.
During a seizure, you may:
Fall down and start shaking all over
Stare blankly or become confused
Go limp and pass out
Not be able to talk
Arch your back and look stiff
Lose control of your bladder or bowels, causing you to urinate (pee) or have a bowel movement (poop)
Sometimes convulsions (muscle jerks and spasms) affect only part of the body, such as the arm and leg on one side.
After the seizure, you may feel a little confused for an hour or two and have symptoms like:
Feeling very weak and tired
If you have a seizure while you're driving or climbing a ladder, you may hurt yourself or others.
What will doctors do after I have a seizure?
Doctors do different things depending on whether you've had seizures before. If you've had seizures before, you usually don't need as many tests.
If this was your first seizure, doctors will try to find out what caused it. Doctors will examine you and ask lots of questions and usually do tests, such as:
An electroencephalography (EEG Electroencephalography (EEG) Brain waves are electrical signals your brain makes. Your brain is always making electrical signals, even when you're asleep. Certain brain problems such as seizures cause changes in your brain... read more ), a painless, safe test that measures your brain’s electrical signals
Blood or urine tests
An electrocardiogram (ECG Electrocardiography Electrocardiography is a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. It's quick, painless, and harmless. The results of that test are shown in an electrocardiogram. It looks like a... read more ), a quick, painless, safe test that measures your heart’s electric pathways and the speed and pattern of your heartbeats
MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more , an imaging test that uses a strong magnetic field to create a detailed picture of your brain
If you've had seizures before and doctors have already checked you out thoroughly, you may not need tests. Your doctor will usually want to see you and do tests if:
Your seizure lasted longer than your typical seizure
Your seizure was different than your typical seizure
You didn't come back to normal as quickly as you usually do
You have a fever
You hurt yourself
If you take medicine to prevent seizures, doctors usually do a blood test to see if there's enough medicine in your bloodstream.
Doctors will diagnose you with a seizure disorder if you’ve had 2 or more seizures at different times.
How do doctors treat seizure disorders?
If you're having a seizure while at the doctor or hospital, doctors may:
Give you medicine through a vein (IV) to stop a seizure, if your seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
If doctors can tell what causes your seizures, they'll treat the cause.
To prevent seizures, doctors will:
Have you take antiseizure medicine every day
Tell you to avoid alcohol, drugs, and stress, if these trigger your seizures
It's very important to take your antiseizure medicine the way your doctor prescribed. Not taking your medicine is a common reason for having a seizure.
If you've had a seizure within the past 6 months, doctors usually recommend that you NOT:
Operate power tools
Take baths in a bathtub
Once you've gone 6 months without a seizure, you can usually start doing these things again.
What should I do if someone is having a seizure?
Don't panic—most seizures stop on their own in a minute or two
Keep the person away from things that could cause injury (such as stairs or sharp objects)
Loosen tight clothing around the person's neck
Roll the person onto one side
Put a pillow under the person’s head
Stay with the person until the seizure is over
Call a doctor
Despite what you might have heard:
DON'T put a spoon or anything else in the person’s mouth
DON'T try to hold the person's tongue