What causes seizures?
Seizures can arise from any disorder, event or disease that damages the brain and stimulates unusual electrical activity. In some cases, seizures may result from medication side effects. Developmental factors may also lead to seizures. Finally, in some cases, seizures may not have a known cause.
Disease and disorder causes of seizures
Seizures can be caused by a variety of diseases and disorders including:
- Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
- Huntington’s disease (a genetic disorder causing nerve cells in the brain to waste away)
- Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
- Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
- Other infections of the brain
- Phenylketonuria (inability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Tumors of the brain
Other causes of seizures
Seizures can be caused by a variety of other circumstances including:
- Alcohol abuse
- Alcohol or drug withdrawal
- Brain surgery
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Kidney or liver failure
- Medication side effects
- Recreational drug abuse
Serious or life-threatening causes of seizures
Seizures may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
- Epilepsy (neurological disorder causing recurrent seizures)
- Hematoma (collection of blood in the brain)
- Shock (dangerously low blood pressure)
- Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)
- Traumatic brain injury
Questions for diagnosing the cause of seizures
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your seizures including:
- Is this your first seizure?
- Do you have a family history of seizures or epilepsy?
- Do you have an infection?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Have you had any recent head injuries?
- Have you had any recent surgery?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of seizures?
Seizures can range from mild and spontaneously resolving to serious and chronic. Because seizures involve bouts of unconsciousness, it is possible to undergo an injury during a seizure. Because seizures can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Brain damage
- Damage to your tongue or mouth due to biting during seizure
- Injury during seizure
- Pulmonary aspiration (inhaling blood, vomited material, or other substances into lungs)
- Status epilepticus (recurrent seizures without recovery)
References: Epilepsy. PubMed Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001714/. Accessed May 4, 2011.
NINDS epilepsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm. Accessed May 4, 2011.
Seizures. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seizures.html. Accessed May 4, 2011.
Seizures. PubMed Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003684/. Accessed May 4, 2011
What are seizures?
Seizures are uncontrolled spasms or convulsions caused by abnormal patterns of electrical activity in the brain. Because the entire brain, or any part of the brain, can be affected, there are many types of seizures with many manifestations. Seizures can result from almost any type of damage to the brain, including injury and infection. Recurrent seizures are a sign of epilepsy.... Read more about seizures introduction