9 Startling Facts About Seizures

Epilepsy and seizures can be very scary things. Around 2.3 million adults and 467,711 children have epilepsy in the US. The direct and indirect cost of this condition is estimated to be around $15.5 billion annually. The terms epilepsy and seizure are often interchanged, but they can be two different things. It’s important to learn the facts about seizures. 

Epilepsy is a term that encompasses recurring seizures. Seizures can be different, but all of them include abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This electrical activity changes body movements. Groups of cells and neurons in the brain produce impulses that control body movements, thoughts and sensations. When these impulses occur excessively, a seizure is produced. When someone has recurring seizures, more than likely they will have the same type of seizure each time. Seizures are stereotypic. An epilepsy diagnosis comes when a person has had two seizures that are unrelated to any other condition.

Around 1 in 10 people in the US has had a seizure .You can have a seizure without having epilepsy, but you can’t have epilepsy without having seizures. Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. There are several types of seizures, but they can all be broken down into two groups:

Primary generalized seizures

These types of seizures affect both sides of the brain in widespread areas.

Partial seizures

These begin in small areas of the brain and can rapidly spread to other parts of the brain and become widespread.

Seizures and epilepsy can be caused by several things. Find out more about epilepsy and seizure facts below.

1. There are several kinds of seizures.

Some seizures are hardly noticeable while others are very dramatic. Seizure symptoms can consist of rapid blinking or simply staring out into space. Others symptoms might make someone appear very confused for a few minutes. Still, others might lose consciousness, fall to the ground and have jerky muscle contractions for a few minutes, followed by confusion.

2. People without epilepsy can have seizures.

Things like high fevers, low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or recently having a concussion can also cause seizures.

3. Epilepsy can be caused by several things.

Almost two-thirds of people with epilepsy do not have a specific underlying cause. They are either labeled as cryptogenic, which means they don’t have any known cause, or as idiopathic, which means that there is no neurological disorder but the symptoms are consistent with some epileptic syndromes. Several other factors can cause epilepsy:

  • Oxygen deprivation during childbirth

  • Brain infections like meningitis, encephalitis and cysticercosis

  • Traumatic brain or head injuries

  • Strokes

  • Neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Brain tumors

  • Genetic disorders

4. There are ways to prevent epilepsy.

Prenatal care

Avoiding problems during childbirth by having proper prenatal care may reduce the chances of complications that could lead to epilepsy.

Vaccinations

Immunizing children against certain diseases can reduce the risk of developing epilepsy.

Proper safety measures

Children should wear seatbelts, use car seats and wear helmets to prevent traumatic brain and head injuries. Older adults can reduce their risk of falling by exercising regularly, getting regular eye exams and removing trip hazards.

Reduce the risk of stroke

Everyone can reduce their risk of stroke by exercising, keeping their blood pressure low, staying at a healthy weight, lowering cholesterol and utilizing resources to quit smoking.

5. There are ways to treat epilepsy.

After determining what type of epilepsy the patient has through medical history and neurological exams, several treatment options are available. 

Medication

Medications are the most common form of treatment. For most people, the drugs work and the seizures are stopped. For other people they may help partially or not at all. These people usually seek out other seizure-preventing treatments.

Surgery

If seizures happen in a very specific place in the brain, doctors can often perform surgery to remove the area that is most affected. 

Other

If none of the other options work, treatments such as nerve stimulation and special diets are used to control seizures.

6. Women can have a harder time with epilepsy.

Hormone changes and pregnancy can make epilepsy hard to manage. Pregnant women need to take extra precautions while pregnant and work closely with a doctor. Seizures and medications can sometimes harm a developing baby. 

7. Epilepsy can be fatal.

When epilepsy is the sign of a more serious underlying cause, it increases the risk of death. People who have major seizures and fall due to loss of consciousness can severely injure themselves; some injuries may be fatal. Long or rapid successions of seizures can also be dangerous.

8. You cannot swallow your tongue while having a seizure.

Trying to put something in someone’s mouth while they are having a seizure can injure their jaw, chip teeth or cut their gums. If you encounter someone having a seizure, it’s important to gently roll them on their side to protect them.

9. Epilepsy is not contagious.

You can’t catch it from another person. However, anyone can develop epilepsy. Elderly people over the age of 65 often begin having seizures for the first time as they age. There is also no cure for epilepsy.

UnityPoint Health - Trinity offers an epilepsy monitoring center for those who need help managing their epilepsy and seizures. The Neurosciences team can help patients with epilepsy medication, seizure monitoring, seizure frequency and determining seizure types. The Neurosciences department also consists of a pain management clinic, memory clinic and sleep center. 

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