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What are Seizures?
A seizure is a condition that occurs when the electrical system of the brain malfunctions. When the brain functions normally, a multitude of tiny electrical signals are produced by the nerve cells of the brain and other parts of the body. With a seizure there is a short, temporary disturbance within the electrical system of the brain – like when a power outage occurs and the electricity switches off.
Seizures cause uncontrollable changes in body movements, behavior, awareness or sensation. Before a seizure occurs, there may be warning signs known as an aura – unusual smells, tastes or sensations.
After a seizure has occurred, the person will often experience after effects such as a headache, confusion, fatigue, sore muscles and unusual sensations - this is called the postictal state. When seizures recur, the condition is known as epilepsy.
The symptoms and signs of a seizure
- Group of muscles contract suddenly and involuntary
- Numbness of part of the body
- Brief memory loss
- Strange sensations
- Experiencing a sensation of fear
- Seeing flashes or sparks
Types of Seizures
Seizures may occur in only one region of the brain and is called a partial seizure. There are different types of partial seizures – simple partial seizure and complex partial seizure.
- During a simple partial seizure, the person may experience strange sensations but remains conscious.
- In a complex partial seizure, the person may lose consciousness, and this change in consciousness may be like a dreamlike experience.
If a seizure affects many regions of the brain, it is called a generalized seizure or a grand mal seizure, fit or convulsion. This type of seizure commonly causes the person to collapse, lose consciousness or experience severe muscle spasms. It may be accompanied by excessive salivation, vomiting, loss of bladder and bowel control.
Generalized seizures are also categorized into various types and include:
- Absence or petit mal seizures – the person may experience a short period of impaired consciousness, followed by staring into space and perhaps mild twitching of muscle groups
- Focal motor seizure – repeated twitching movements in the face or limbs
- Tonic seizures – the muscles of the body stiffen and pull tight, particularly in the legs, arms and back
- Clonic seizure – repeated jerking movements occur on both sides of the body
- Tonic – clonic seizure – a combination of symptoms, which includes loss of consciousness, stiffening of the body and repeated jerks of the arms and/or legs
The diagnosis of a seizure is determined by the symptoms presented, a physical examination and medical history of the patient. Various tests may be performed and include:
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- CT scan or MRI scan
- Blood tests
- Lumbar puncture
- Toxicology screening
What Causes Seizures?
Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It may be the result of an infection, low blood sugar, poisoning, head injury or even a drug overdose. Any medical problem affecting the brain can also cause a seizure such as brain tumor as well as a lack of oxygen to the brain.
Help for Seizures
Most simple partial seizures do not require an emergency response, but complex partial response seizures are treated with prescription medication to control symptoms. Medications such as anti-epileptic drugs or anticonvulsants are administered to minimize the onset and severity of seizures.
Although these drugs are effective and treat symptoms of the seizures, they often bring about some harsh side effects such as dizziness, trembling and stuttering, changes in behavior, confusion and depression, loss of appetite and weight changes. Sometimes skin reactions, digestion problems and even hair loss may occur as result of side effects of medication.
More Information on Seizures
Tips to Address a Person Having a Seizure
When a person has a seizure, he or she should be placed on the ground away from any sharp or dangerous objects that may be lying around. Do not try to restrain the person or put anything between their teeth. After the seizure has ended, roll the person onto his or her side – this is called the recovery position. First aid for a seizure generally depends on the type of seizure that occurs.
If a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, call for medical assistance immediately.