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About 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy occur each year.*
*Source: Epilepsy Foundation

Seizure Overview

A seizure happens when the brain’s electrical system malfunctions, discharging electrical energy in an uncontrolled manner. A resulting surge of energy through the brain can cause unconsciousness and contraction of muscles.

When many people hear the word “seizure” they picture a series of convulsions and uncontrolled body shaking. In fact, not all seizures cause convulsion; some have mild symptoms.

There are two primary types of seizure. Focal (partial) seizures occur in just one part of the brain. Generalized seizures are due to abnormal activity on both sides of the brain.

Symptoms typically last from 30 seconds to two minutes and do not cause lasting damage. A seizure that lasts more than five minutes, or repeated seizures when the patient does not wake up between them, are considered medical emergencies.

There are a variety of causes including medication, high fever, head injury and some diseases. Epilepsy is defined as recurring seizures due to a brain disorder. Other causes are abnormal levels of sodium (salt) or glucose (sugar) in the blood, brain infection including meningitis, congenital brain defects, poisoning, kidney or liver failure, venomous bites, extremely high blood pressure, withdrawal from alcohol and certain drugs, drug abuse, stroke and toxemia (a bacteria-related blood poisoning) in pregnancy.

WellStar neurologists are skilled and experienced in assessing patients with seizures to determine any underlying diseases or other causes. They also help patients and their families learn how to live with the possibility of seizures and manage and avoid triggers that bring them on.

Seizure Symptoms

It can be difficult to tell when someone is having a seizure because some of the symptoms are fairly subtle. Specific symptoms depend on the part of the brain that is involved. Symptoms come on suddenly and can include:

  • A brief blackout followed by a period of confusion and not remembering a period of time
  • Behavioral changes such as picking at clothing
  • Drooling or frothing at the mouth
  • Eye movements
  • Sounds including grunting and snorting
  • Loss of bladder/bowel control
  • Emotional/mood changes including anger, fear, panic, joy or laughter

In some cases warning signs occur before the attack. Examples are:

  • Fear or anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vertigo (dizziness)
  • Visual symptoms like bright flashing lights, spots or wavy lines

Risk Factors

Certain factors in your personal and family history may make you more likely to experience seizures than other people. You may wish to note the presence of any of these in yourself or a child and discuss them with your WellStar physician.

  • A baby who is small for its gestational age
  • A baby who has seizures in the first month of life
  • A baby with brain development problems
  • Bleeding into the brain
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
  • Brain injury or lack of oxygen to the brain
  • A head injury followed by seizures
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain infections including meningitis
  • Stroke resulting from blockage of arteries and blood flow
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Family history of epilepsy or seizures accompanied by high fever
  • Fever-related seizures that are unusually long
  • Intellectual developmental disabilities
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Use of illegal drugs including cocaine

Other Risk Factors

Other conditions that are also more common in people with seizures:


  • Learning problems requiring special help in school
  • Symptoms of depression, anxiety or mood changes
  • Sleeping problems
  • Not succeeding at home, at school or with friends
  • Unexplained falls or injuries
  • Headache

Related Information

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