by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
A seizure happens when there are certain types of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. During a seizure, you may:
If you have 2 or more seizures that are not due to an illness or other trigger, then it is considered a seizure disorder. This condition is also known as epilepsy. Seizure disorders may be classified by the part of the brain they affect and the kinds of symptoms they cause. One way to categorize into two important groups is:
Seizures are caused by abnormal brain function. For many people, it is not known what causes the malfunction. Some known causes include:
Factors that may increase your chance of developing seizures or a seizure disorder include:
If you already have a seizure disorder, the following factors can increase your chance of having a seizure:
There are many kinds of seizure disorders with a variety of symptoms, such as:
Symptoms of generalized seizure disorders include:
Symptoms of partial seizure disorder include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a neurologist. These doctors specialize in the nervous system and brain.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your brain activity may be evaluated. This can be done with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
The goals of treatment are to:
There are wide varieties of medications that may be used. These drugs may be given alone or in combination. Each drug may have particular side effects and interactions. Talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you.
Talk to your doctor if you are or plan to become pregnant.
If medication does not work or the side effects are too severe, you may need surgery. Surgery involves the removal of the seizure focus. This is the area of the brain that has been identified as starting the seizure. Surgery is only an option for people who have very localized areas of the brain involved.
A brain responsive neurostimulator, an intracranial implanted device, can stop seizures in those with medically refractory epilepsy as they begin.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
A device is implanted in the chest. It will provide intermittent electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. It is not clear how this works. Somehow it prevents or decreases the frequency of seizures. You may still require medication. The dosage may be less.
This is a strict diet. It is high in fat and low in carbohydrates and proteins. This diet keeps the body’s chemical balance in ketosis. Ketosis decreases the frequency of seizures. The reason is unknown. Following a ketogenic diet is most successful in children. It is less successful in adults.
Modification of Activity
If you have a seizure disorder, you can take the following steps to try to decrease the chance of a seizure:
There are no known ways to prevent every type of seizure disorder. You can take steps to prevent brain injuries that could lead to seizures:
If you have a severe seizure disorder, some changes may be needed to prevent serious injuries, such as:
Talk to your doctor about these kinds of issues.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Center for Epilepsy and Seizure Education
Antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) for seizure disorders. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated August 10, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Epilepsy in Adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115086/Epilepsy-in-adults . Updated October 16, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Fisher RS, Van Emde Boas W, Blume W, et al. Epileptic seizures and epilepsy: Definition proposed by the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE). Epilepsia. 2005;46:470–472.
Geller EB, Skarpaas TL, Gross RE, et al. Brain-responsive neurostimulation in patients with medically intractable mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2017;58(6):994-1004.
Serafini A, Lukas RV, VanHaerents S, et al. Paraneoplastic epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2016;61:51-58.
12/20/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115086/Epilepsy-in-adults: 2007 safety alerts for drugs, biologics, medical devices, and dietary supplements: Carbamazepine (marketed as Carbatrol, Equetro, Tegretol and generics). Medwatch. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
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5/14/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115086/Epilepsy-in-adults : Neal EG, Chaffe H, Schwartz RH, et al. The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet Neurol. 2008;7(6):500-506.
5/6/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115086/Epilepsy-in-adults : Quet F, Guerchet M, Pion SD, Ngoungou EB, Nicoletti A, Preux PM. Meta-analysis of the association between cysticercosis and epilepsy in Africa. Epilepsia. 2010 ;51(5):830-837.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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