Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical signals. A seizure disorder is a problem that causes a person to have seizures.
The brain is made up of nerve cells. Nerve cells talk to each other through electrical signals. Seizures happen if too many nerve cells send signals all at once.
During a seizure, a person may:
Usually after a few minutes, the nerve cells start to behave normally and the person returns to normal.
Call 911 for emergency medical help or go to the hospital right away if a person has a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes.
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that causes you to keep having seizures.
Some people who have a seizure will never have another and don't have epilepsy. People with epilepsy have many seizures, but the number of seizures varies. Some people with epilepsy have only 1 or 2 seizures a year. Some have seizures every day.
Most of the time doctors don't know what makes a person have a seizure disorder.
If your first seizure happens when you're a baby, the cause is usually different than if your first seizure happens when you're an adult.
If the first seizure happens before age 2, common causes are:
If the first seizure happens after age 18, common causes are:
If you have only 1 seizure, it's most often caused by:
Seizures can be caused by flashing lights or video games (reflex epilepsy), but this is rare.
You may have symptoms before a seizure (called an aura). You may notice:
During a seizure, you aren't aware of what's going on and can't talk or respond. However, you're still breathing.
During a seizure, you may:
Sometimes convulsions (muscle jerks and spasms) affect only part of the body, such as the arm and leg on one side.
After the seizure, you may feel a little confused for an hour or two and have symptoms like:
If you have a seizure while you're driving or climbing a ladder, you may hurt yourself or others.
Doctors do different things depending on whether you've had seizures before. If you've had seizures before, you usually don't need as many tests.
If this was your first seizure, doctors will need to find out what caused it. Doctors will examine you and ask lots of questions and usually do tests, such as:
An electroencephalography (EEG Electroencephalography (EEG) Brain waves are electrical signals your brain makes. Your brain is always making electrical signals, even when you're asleep. Certain brain problems such as seizures cause changes in your brain... read more ), a painless, safe test that measures your brain’s electrical signals
Blood or urine tests
An electrocardiogram (ECG Electrocardiography Electrocardiography is a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. It's quick, painless, and harmless. The results of that test are shown in an electrocardiogram. It looks like a... read more ), a quick, painless, safe test that measures your heart’s electric pathways and the speed and pattern of your heartbeats
MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more , an imaging test that uses a strong magnetic field to create a detailed picture of your brain
If you've had seizures before and doctors have already checked you out thoroughly, you may not need tests. Your doctor will usually want to see you and do tests if:
If you take medicine to prevent seizures, doctors usually do a blood test to see if there's enough medicine in your bloodstream.
Doctors will diagnose you with a seizure disorder if you’ve had 2 or more seizures at different times.
If you're having a seizure while at the doctor or hospital, doctors may:
If doctors can tell what causes your seizures, they'll treat the cause.
To prevent seizures, doctors will:
It's very important to take your antiseizure medicine the way your doctor prescribed. Not taking your medicine is a common reason for having a seizure.
If you've had a seizure within the past 6 months, doctors usually recommend that you NOT:
Once you've gone 6 months without a seizure, you can usually start doing these things again.
Don't panic—most seizures stop on their own in a minute or two
Keep the person away from things that could cause injury (such as stairs or sharp objects)
Loosen tight clothing around the person's neck
Roll the person onto one side
Put a pillow under the person’s head
Stay with the person until the seizure is over
Call a doctor
Despite what you might have heard: