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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.
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:
In some cases warning signs occur before the attack. Examples are:
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.
Other conditions that are also more common in people with seizures:
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent a seizure, you can take steps that may reduce the chance of having one, or having a recurrence.
It is important to see your Wellstar neurologist if you believe you have had a seizure or may have one. The symptoms can mirror those of other conditions; that’s why a professional medical diagnosis is so important.
A diagnosis starts with a comprehensive evaluation including medical and family history. Your doctor will examine you and will ask about symptoms, habits and lifestyle.
Wellstar neurologists use a variety of diagnostic tools and tests to identify the type and cause of seizures and whether they are related to underlying neurological conditions or other diseases. Among these:
Your neurologist will develop a treatment plan based on the results of the examination and test results as well as factors like age, overall health, type and frequency of seizures, your tolerance for specific medications and treatments, and your opinions and preferences.
Wellstar neurologists use innovative therapies and the newest, proven medications to help control seizures. Your doctor will discuss a medication plan with you, including the importance of compliance and the need to make periodic adjustments to the medicine in order to maximize its benefit.
While you are on seizure medication your doctor may order tests to monitor the effectiveness of the medicine. These could include blood tests, urine tests and EEG (brain wave tests).
EEG testing which can include ambulatory EEG or long term video EEG monitoring.
Patients whose seizures are not well controlled with medication may benefit from Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). The procedure sends small pulses of energy to the brain from the Vagus nerve—a large nerve in the neck. A small battery is surgically placed into the chest wall; small wires are attached to the battery and placed under the skin around the Vagus nerve.
The battery is programmed to send energy impulses regularly to the brain. When a patient feels a seizure coming, he or she can activate the impulse, which often stops the seizures.
Your doctor will explain more about the procedure and why you may or may not be a good candidate for it.
Wellstar neurosurgeons are highly skilled and experienced in the complex surgery that can relieve seizures in some patients. Depending on the individual situation, an operation may remove the part of the brain where the seizures are occurring. In some cases the surgery may help stop the spread of the abnormal electrical currents in the brain.
Patients may be kept awake during the surgery, as the brain does not feel pain. Also, this lets the neurosurgeon ask the patient to follow basic commands and ensure that key areas of the brain are undamaged.
Surgery is not a solution for everyone with seizures. It may be appropriate for those who:
You will likely have many questions for your neurosurgeon. Rest assured that your doctor and the rest of the Wellstar neuroscience team are ready to assist you at every step in the process—before, during and following surgery.
Most people who have seizures learn to manage their symptoms and enjoy a normal life including productive work and family relationships. It is important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan and live a healthy lifestyle, which includes proper rest, nutrition, exercise and a minimum of stress.