Seizures & Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that causes seizures. However, while epilepsy is characterized by recurring seizures, people who do not have epilepsy can also experience seizures.

What Can Cause Seizures and Epilepsy?

A seizure occurs due to sudden changes in the brain’s electrical activity. It may involve sudden shaking and loss of motor control. There are three main types of seizures.

Focal Onset Seizures

Focal onset seizures, also called partial seizures, occur in a single brain area. Simple focal seizures affect a small portion of the brain. They may cause twitching or an unusual sensation, like a strange smell or taste. 

In contrast, complex focal seizures can cause feelings of confusion and leave a patient unable to respond to questions or directions for a few minutes following the attack.

Generalized Onset Seizures

Generalized onset seizures start on both sides of the brain simultaneously and appear to involve all areas of the brain. There are six types of generalized seizures:

Tonic-clonic (grand mal seizures)

Some types of generalized onset seizures may occur in clusters and last only five to ten seconds. Other types, such as tonic-clonic seizures, can cause whole-body convulsions.

Unknown Onset Seizures

An unknown onset seizure is an unwitnessed seizure that begins without anyone noticing the attack. Unknown onset seizures may later receive a diagnosis of focal or generalized seizures.

Symptoms of Seizures

Seizures can vary greatly in symptoms and severity. Many patients experience specific symptoms shortly before the onset of a seizure:

Sudden fear or anxiousness
Changes in vision
Jerking movements of the arms and legs
An out-of-body sensation
Feelings of deja vu

When the seizure starts, a person will experience other symptoms that come with a loss of body control, such as:

Uncontrollable muscle spasms
Drooling or frothing at the mouth
Strange taste in the mouth
Clenching teeth
Sudden, rapid eye movements
Making unusual noises, like grunting
Losing control of bladder or bowel function
Sudden mood changes
Loss of consciousness
Confusion after regaining consciousness

While some seizures have noticeable symptoms, many seizures are not outwardly apparent. The person having a seizure may look like they are simply staring off into space for a moment. 

A person’s awareness level during the episode can help determine the type of seizure they experienced. In some cases, they may remain conscious and be aware that they are having a seizure.

Causes of Seizures

When a patient experiences a seizure without epilepsy, it may be a provoked seizure, which is a standalone seizure resulting from trauma, substance abuse, or a medical imbalance. Causes of provoked seizures include:

High fevers
Lack of sleep
Low blood sodium or hyponatremia
Head trauma
Use of recreational or illegal drugs
Alcohol abuse
Visual stimulants like flashing lights or moving patterns

In addition, medical conditions such as a stroke, brain tumor, or an autoimmune disorder may cause seizures.

Causes of Epilepsy

The central nervous system disorder known as epilepsy causes brain activity to become abnormal. Unfortunately, 50% of people with epilepsy have no discernible cause for the disorder. 

Some known causes of epilepsy include:

Genetic predisposition
Head trauma
Brain abnormalities like tumors or vascular malformations
Viral encephalitis
Prenatal injuries
Developmental disorders

Having a single seizure does not indicate a patient has epilepsy. An epilepsy diagnosis requires two or more unprovoked seizures at least 24 hours apart. 

Symptoms of Epilepsy

Most patients with epilepsy will experience the same type of seizures, so their symptoms and signs of an attack often remain consistent every time an event occurs. Symptoms of epilepsy may include:

Temporary confusion
Staring spells
Stiff muscles
Uncontrollable muscle spasms
Loss of consciousness or awareness
Sudden fear, anxiety, or feelings of deja vu

Often, those with epilepsy experience high levels of stress and anxiety after their first seizure. Accurately diagnosing the seizure type and what might trigger them offers patients the best chance at identifying an effective treatment and preventing future seizures. 

Dr. Benmoshe at Los Angeles Neurology uses all the diagnostic tools available to accurately diagnose epilepsy and seizures. He takes a holistic approach to develop treatment plans to manage seizure disorders and improve patients’ overall quality of life.

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