Learn About Seizures

What is the definition of Seizures?

A seizure is the physical changes in behavior that occurs after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

The term "seizure" is often used interchangeably with "convulsion." During convulsions a person has uncontrollable shaking that is rapid and rhythmic, with the muscles contracting and relaxing repeatedly. There are many different types of seizures. Some have mild symptoms without shaking.

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What are the alternative names for Seizures?

Secondary seizures; Reactive seizures; Seizure - secondary; Seizure - reactive; Convulsions

What is some background information about Seizures?

It may be hard to tell if someone is having a seizure. Some seizures only cause a person to have staring spells. These may go unnoticed.

Specific symptoms depend on which part of the brain is involved. Symptoms occur suddenly and may include:

  • Brief blackout followed by a period of confusion (the person cannot remember for a short time)
  • Changes in behavior, such as picking at one's clothing
  • Drooling or frothing at the mouth
  • Eye movements
  • Grunting and snorting
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Mood changes, such as sudden anger, unexplainable fear, panic, joy, or laughter
  • Shaking of the entire body
  • Sudden falling
  • Tasting a bitter or metallic flavor
  • Teeth clenching
  • Temporary stop in breathing
  • Uncontrollable muscle spasms with twitching and jerking limbs

Symptoms may stop after a few seconds or minutes, or continue for up to 15 minutes. They rarely continue longer.

The person may have warning symptoms before the attack, such as:

  • Fear or anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vertigo (feeling as if you are spinning or moving)
  • Visual symptoms (such as flashing bright lights, spots, or wavy lines before the eyes)
What are the causes of Seizures?

Seizures of all types are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Causes of seizures can include:

  • Abnormal levels of sodium or glucose in the blood
  • Brain infection, including meningitis and encephalitis
  • Brain injury that occurs to the baby during labor or childbirth
  • Brain problems that occur before birth (congenital brain defects)
  • Brain tumor (rare)
  • Drug abuse
  • Electric shock
  • Epilepsy
  • Fever (particularly in young children)
  • Head injury
  • Heart disease
  • Heat illness (heat intolerance)
  • High fever
  • Phenylketonuria (PKU), which can cause seizures in infants
  • Poisoning
  • Street drugs, such as angel dust (PCP), cocaine, amphetamines
  • Stroke
  • Toxemia of pregnancy
  • Toxin buildup in the body due to liver or kidney failure
  • Very high blood pressure (malignant hypertension)
  • Venomous bites and stings (such as a snake bite)
  • Withdrawal from alcohol or certain medicines after using it for a long time

Sometimes, no cause can be found. This is called idiopathic seizures. They are usually seen in children and young adults, but can occur at any age. There may be a family history of epilepsy or seizures.

If seizures continue repeatedly after the underlying problem is treated, the condition is called epilepsy.

How do I perform a home exam for a Seizures?

Most seizures stop by themselves. But during a seizure, the person can be hurt.

When a seizure occurs, the main goal is to protect the person from injury:

  • Try to prevent a fall. Lay the person on the ground in a safe area. Clear the area of furniture or other sharp objects.
  • Cushion the person's head.
  • Loosen tight clothing, especially around the neck.
  • Turn the person on their side. If vomiting occurs, this helps make sure that the vomit is not inhaled into the lungs.
  • Look for a medical ID bracelet with seizure instructions.
  • Stay with the person until they recover or until professional medical help arrives.

Things friends and family members should NOT do:

  • DO NOT restrain (try to hold down) the person.
  • DO NOT place anything between the person's teeth during a seizure (including your fingers).
  • DO NOT attempt to hold the person's tongue.
  • DO NOT move the person unless they are in danger or near something hazardous.
  • DO NOT try to make the person stop convulsing. They have no control over the seizure and are not aware of what is happening at the time.
  • DO NOT give the person anything by mouth until the convulsions have stopped and the person is fully awake and alert.
  • DO NOT start CPR unless the seizure has clearly stopped and the person is not breathing or has no pulse.

If a baby or child has a seizure during a high fever, cool the child slowly with lukewarm water. DO NOT place the child in a cold bath. Call your child's health care provider and ask what you should do next. Also, ask if it is OK to give the child acetaminophen (Tylenol) once they are awake.

When should I contact a medical professional for Seizures?

Call 911 or the local emergency number if:

  • This is the first time the person has had a seizure
  • A seizure lasts more than 2 to 5 minutes
  • The person does not awaken or have normal behavior after a seizure
  • Another seizure starts soon after a seizure ends
  • The person had a seizure in water
  • The person is pregnant, injured, or has diabetes
  • The person does not have a medical ID bracelet (instructions explaining what to do)
  • There is anything different about this seizure compared to the person's usual seizures

Report all seizures to the person's provider. The provider may need to adjust or change the person's medicines.

What should I expect during a doctor appointment?

A person who has had a new or severe seizure is usually seen in a hospital emergency room. The provider will try to diagnose the type of seizure based on the symptoms.

Tests will be done to rule out other medical conditions that cause seizures or similar symptoms. This may include fainting, transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, panic attacks, migraine headaches, sleep disturbances, and other possible causes.

Tests that may be ordered include:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • CT scan of the head or MRI of the head
  • EEG (usually not in the emergency room)
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)

Further testing is needed if a person has:

  • A new seizure without a clear cause
  • Epilepsy (to make sure the person is taking the right amount of medicine)
Convulsions - first aid - series
Who are the top Seizures Local Doctors?
Elite
Highly rated in
39
conditions
Neurology
General Surgery

NYU Langone Health

NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

223 E 34th St 
New York, NY 10016

Orrin Devinsky is a Neurologist and a General Surgeon in New York, New York. Dr. Devinsky has been practicing medicine for over 40 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Seizures. He is also highly rated in 39 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Seizures, Epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome, and Epilepsy with Myoclonic-Atonic Seizures. He is licensed to treat patients in New York and New Jersey. Dr. Devinsky is currently accepting new patients.

Elite
Highly rated in
23
conditions
Pediatrics
Neurology

Duke Health

Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center

2301 Erwin Rd 
Durham, NC 27705

Mohamad Mikati is a Pediatrics specialist and a Neurologist in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Mikati has been practicing medicine for over 42 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Seizures. He is also highly rated in 23 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Status Epilepticus, Seizures, Epilepsy, and Hemiplegia. He is licensed to treat patients in North Carolina. Dr. Mikati is currently accepting new patients.

 
 
 
 
Learn about our expert tiers
Learn more
Elite
Highly rated in
20
conditions
Neurology
Pediatrics

The University of Vermont Health Network

University Of Vermont Medical Center Inc

111 Colcher Ster Avenue 
Burlington, VT 5401

Gregory Holmes is a Neurologist and a Pediatrics doctor in Burlington, Vermont. Dr. Holmes has been practicing medicine for over 48 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Seizures. He is also highly rated in 20 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Seizures, Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure, Epilepsy, and Absence Seizure. He is licensed to treat patients in New Hampshire and Vermont.

What are the latest Seizures Clinical Trials?
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The Influence of Comorbid Depression on the Prognosis of Patients With Newly-Diagnosed Epilepsy: A Prospective, Multi-center, Cohort Study
What are the Latest Advances for Seizures?
A 37-Year-Old Man With Structural Focal Epilepsy and Paroxysmal Nocturnal Breathing Arrests.
Response of focal refractory status epilepticus to lacosamide in an infant.
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Comparative Efficacy and Safety of Lacosamide and Oxcarbazepine for Seizure Control in Children with Newly Diagnosed Solitary Neurocysticercosis.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : February 24, 2020
Published By : Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Internal review and update on 08/26/2021 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 09/30/3021.

What are the references for this article ?

Krumholz A, Wiebe S, Gronseth GS, et al. Evidence-based guideline: management of an unprovoked first seizure in adults: report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society. Neurology. 2015;84(16):1705-1713. PMID: 25901057 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25901057/.

Mikati MA, Tchapyjnikov D. Seizures in childhood. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 611.

Moeller JJ, Hirsch LJ. Diagnosis and classification of seizures and epilepsy. In: Winn HR, ed. Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 61.

Rabin E, Jagoda AS. Seizures. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 92.