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Anything that disrupts the normal electrical activity in the brain can cause a seizure. Symptoms of a seizure vary widely. Some people lose consciousness and others do not. Some people may appear as though they are staring into space, while other people’s muscles jerk during an event. Regardless of which type of seizure is occurring, an excess of electrical activity is present in the brain.
Since the location of any disruption in the brain’s electrical activity can result in a seizure, symptoms and severity of a seizure can vary. If you have any of the symptoms below, talk to your doctor.
- Unexplained temporary confusion
- Uncontrollable jerking, shaking or stiffness
- Daydreaming episode or staring blankly into space
- Unexplained sensations such as a smell, taste or feeling
- Unusual sensations; feeling detached; body looks or feels different; situations or people look unexpectedly familiar (for example, frequent “déjà vu” feelings) or strange
Seek immediate medical help if:
- It is a first-time seizure
- The seizure lasts more than five minutes
- Prolonged confusion (more than 10 minutes) after the seizure
- Breathing or consciousness doesn't return after the seizure stops
- A second seizure follows immediately
- If you are pregnant
- If you have diabetes
- If you were injured during the seizure
- If there is a significant change in the character of the seizure from a person’s known seizure pattern
- If you have been treated for epilepsy and are not seizure free for a year
What causes a seizure?
Frequent causes include high fever, low blood sugar, high blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or a brain structural abnormality. Other causes include:
- Vascular disorders such as ischemic or hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke
- Endocrine disorders
- Infection (such as meningitis)
- Injury (trauma)
- Metabolic disorders
Types of seizures
The type of seizure depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected and what happens during the seizure. The two broad categories of epileptic seizures are focal and generalized seizures (absence, atonic, tonic-clonic and myoclonic).
Infants and children may have age specific seizures including infantile spasms and febrile (fever) seizures.
The care team at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Neuroscience Center can help diagnose, treat and manage seizure disorders. Treatment may include anticonvulsive medication, which is effective for 70 percent of people with a seizure disorder, vagus nerve stimulation or surgery.
With varied symptoms, seizures can be difficult to diagnose. Typically, physicians use the patient’s description of an event to diagnose a seizure. When discussing an event with your physician, be prepared to describe your symptoms, your activity leading up to the seizure and the frequency of your seizures.
If you have two or more unprovoked seizures, or if your seizure is accompanied by other findings that suggest to the neurologist that there is at least a 60 percent chance of another unprovoked seizure, you are considered to have epilepsy. Lehigh Valley Health Network has a team of skilled neurologists who are dedicated to diagnosing and treating seizures and epilepsy. If you are experiencing seizures that are difficult to diagnose or control our epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) provides continuous care to determine the precise cause of seizures and the most effective treatment.