|Classification and external resources|
|ICD-10||G40., I64., P90., R56.|
An epileptic seizure can be defined as "a transient symptom of excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain". The outward effect can be as dramatic as a wild thrashing movement (tonic-clonic seizure) or as mild as a brief loss of awareness. It can manifest as an alteration in mental state, tonic or clonic movements, convulsions, and various other psychic symptoms (such as déjà vu or jamais vu). The medical syndrome of recurrent, unprovoked seizures is termed epilepsy, but seizures can occur in people who do not have epilepsy.
About 4% of people will have an unprovoked seizure by the age of 80 and yet the chance of experiencing a second seizure is between 30% and 50%. Treatment may reduce the chance of a second one by as much as half. Most single episode seizures are managed by primary care physicians (emergency or general practitioners), whereas investigation and management of ongoing epilepsy is usually by neurologists. Difficult to manage epilepsy may require consultation with an epileptologist, a neurologist with an interest in epilepsy.
Seizure types are organized according to whether the source of the seizure within the brain is localized (partial or focal onset seizures) or distributed (generalized seizures). Partial seizures are further divided on the extent to which consciousness is affected (simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures). If consciousness is unaffected, then it is a simple partial seizure; otherwise it is a complex partial seizure. A partial seizure may spread within the brain—a process known as secondary generalization. Generalized seizures are divided according to the effect on the body, but all involve loss of consciousness. These include absence, myoclonic, clonic, tonic, tonic–clonic, and atonic seizures.
Following standardization proposals published in 1970, out-dated terms such as "petit mal", "grand mal", "Jacksonian", "psychomotor", and "temporal-lobe seizure" have fallen into disuse.
Seizures can cause involuntary changes in body movement or function, sensation, awareness, or behavior. Seizures are often associated with a sudden and involuntary contraction of a group of muscles and loss of consciousness. However, a seizure can also be as subtle as a fleeting numbness of a part of the body, a brief or long term loss of memory, visual changes, sensing/discharging of an unpleasant odor, a strange epigastric sensation, or a sensation of fear and total state of confusion. A seizure can last from a few seconds to status epilepticus, a continuous seizure that will not stop without intervention. Therefore seizures are typically classified as motor, sensory, autonomic, emotional or cognitive. After a seizure, while the brain is recovering, there can be a transient loss of memory; usually the short term memory.
In some cases, the full onset of a seizure event is preceded by some of the sensations described above. These sensations can serve as a warning to the sufferer that a generalized tonic–clonic seizure is about to occur. These "warning sensations" are cumulatively called an aura. Also, it is commonly believed among healthcare providers that many seizures, especially those in children, are preceded by tachycardia that frequently persists throughout the seizure. This early increase in heart rate may supplement an aura as a physiological warning sign of an imminent seizure.
Some patients are able to tell when a seizure is about to happen. Some symptoms experienced by the person before a seizure may include dizziness, lightheadedness, tightening of the chest, and some experience things in slow-motion just prior to the seizure. Symptoms experienced by a person during a seizure depend on where in the brain the disturbance in electrical activity occurs. Partial and frontal seizures and focal epileptic discharges tend to happen more during sleep than during wakefulness. In contrast, psychogenic nonepileptic seizures are rare between midnight and 6 a m. and never occurred during sleep. Generalized epilepsy but not focal epilepsy is higher in the morning probably reflecting a diurnal variation in cortical excitability. A person having a tonic–clonic seizure may cry out, lose consciousness and fall to the ground, and convulse, often violently. A person having a complex partial seizure may appear confused or dazed and will not be able to respond to questions or direction. Some people have seizures that are not noticeable to others. Sometimes, the only clue that a person is having an absence seizure is rapid blinking, extreme confusion for a few seconds or sometimes into hours.
Unprovoked seizures are often associated with epilepsy and related seizure disorders.
Causes of provoked seizures include:
Some medications produce an increased risk of seizures and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) deliberately sets out to induce a seizure for the treatment of major depression. Many seizures have unknown causes.
Seizures which are provoked are not associated with epilepsy, and people who experience such seizures are normally not diagnosed with epilepsy. However, the seizures described above resemble those of epilepsy both outwardly, and on EEG testing.
Seizures can occur after a subject witnesses a traumatic event. This type of seizure is known as a psychogenic non-epileptic seizure and is related to posttraumatic stress disorder.
Mild seizures can be induced through a combination of quickly standing, hyperventilation and applying pressure to the sternum.
It is important to distinguish primary epileptic seizures from secondary causes. Blood tests, lumbar puncture or toxicology screening can be helpful in specific circumstances suggestive of an underlying cause like alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal, meningitis or drug overdose, but there is insufficient evidence to support their routine use in the work-up of an adult with an apparently unprovoked first seizure. A 2007 evidence-based review from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society recommends an electroencephalogram (EEG, brain wave activity) and brain imaging with CT scan or MRI scan in the work-up. MRI is more sensitive in a first apparently unprovoked seizure.
Differentiating an epileptic seizure from other conditions such as syncope can be difficult. A reliable description of a witnessed seizure is the most important factor in determining whether a seizure has occurred.
Most patients are in a post-ictal state following a seizure. In this state they are drowsy and often confused. There may be signs of other injuries. A small study found that finding a bite to the side of the tongue was very helpful when present: while only a quarter of those with seizures had such a bite (sensitivity of 24%), the finding was very specific for seizures, with only 1% due to other causes (specificity of 99%).
Two meta-analyses have quantified the role of an elevated serum prolactin. The first meta-analysis found that: "If a serum prolactin concentration is greater than three times the baseline when taken within one hour of syncope, then in the absence of test "modifiers":
The second meta-analysis found:
An isolated abnormal electrical activity recorded by an electroencephalography examination without a clinical presentation is called subclinical seizure. They can identify background epileptogenic activity, as well as help identify causes of seizures.
Additional diagnostic methods include CT Scanning and MRI imaging or angiography. These may show structural lesions within the brain and heart, but the majority of those with epilepsy show nothing unusual.
As seizures have a differential diagnosis, it is common for patients to be simultaneously investigated for cardiac and endocrine causes. Checking glucose levels, for example, is a mandatory action in the management of seizures as hypoglycemia may cause seizures, and failure to administer glucose would be harmful to the patient. Other causes typically considered are syncope and cardiac arrhythmias, and occasionally panic attacks and cataplexy. In addition, 5% of patients with a positive tilt table test may have seizure-like activity that seems to be due to cerebral hypoxia.. For more information, see non-epileptic seizures.
The first aid for a seizure depends on the type of seizure occurring. Generalized seizures will cause the person to fall, which may result in injury. A tonic–clonic seizure results in violent movements that cannot and should not be suppressed. The person should never be restrained, nor should there be any attempt to put something in the mouth. Potentially sharp or dangerous objects should also be moved from the vicinity, so that the individual is not hurt. After the seizure if the person is not fully conscious and alert, they should be placed in the recovery position. Bystanders should remain calm and avoid crowding the person.
It is not necessary to call an ambulance if the person is known to have epilepsy, if the seizure is shorter than five minutes and is typical for them, if it is not immediately followed by another seizure, and if the person is uninjured. Otherwise, or if in any doubt, medical assistance should be sought.
A seizure longer than five minutes is a medical emergency. Relatives and other caregivers of those known to have epilepsy often carry medicine such as rectal diazepam or buccal midazolam in order to rapidly end the seizure.
A sudden fall can lead to broken bones and other injuries. Children who are affected by frequent drop seizures may wear helmets to protect the head during a fall.
The unusual behavior resulting from the chaotic brain activity of a seizure can be misinterpreted as an aggressive act. This may invoke a hostile response or police involvement, where there was no intention to cause harm or trouble. During a prolonged seizure, the person is defenseless and may become a victim of theft.
A seizure response dog can be trained to summon help or ensure personal safety when a seizure occurs. These are not suitable for everybody. Rarely, a dog may develop the ability to sense a seizure before it occurs.