What are seizures?
Seizures are waves of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can make you pass out, or move or behave strangely. Most seizures last only a few seconds or minutes.
Epilepsy is a condition that causes people to have repeated seizures. But not everyone who has had a seizure has epilepsy. Problems such as low blood sugar or infection can also cause seizures. Other problems such as anxiety or fainting spells can cause events that look like seizures.
What are the symptoms of a seizure?
There are different kinds of seizures. Each causes a different set of symptoms.
People who have "tonic clonic" or "grand mal" seizures often get stiff and then have jerking movements. People who have other types of seizures have less dramatic changes. For instance, some people have shaking movements in just 1 arm or in a part of their face. Other people suddenly stop responding and stare for a few seconds.
Should I see a doctor or nurse if I have a seizure?
If you have never had a seizure before and you have one, you (or whoever is with you) should call for an ambulance (dial 9-1-1). Having a seizure can be a sign that something is wrong with your brain.
How are seizures treated?
The right treatment for seizures depends on what is causing them. If you have seizures because of an infection, you will probably need treatments to get rid of the infection. On the other hand, if you have repeated seizures because of epilepsy, you will probably need anti-seizure medicines, also called "anti-convulsants."
People sometimes need to try different medicines before they find a treatment that works well. Seizures can be hard to control. But if you work with your doctor, chances are good that you will find a treatment that works.
Do anti-seizure medicines cause side effects?
Yes. Anti-seizure medicines can cause side effects. They can make you feel tired or clumsy, or cause other problems. If you are bothered by side effects, tell your doctor about it. He or she can work with you to find the medicine or dose that causes the fewest problems. Most of the side effects from these medicines are mild, but there are 2 rare side effects that are very serious:
Anti-seizure medicines can increase the risk of becoming suicidal (wanting to kill yourself). Speak to your doctor or nurse right away if you start to feel depressed or have thoughts of harming yourself.
Anti-seizure medicines can cause a rare but serious skin rash. Speak to your doctor or nurse right away if you notice a new rash while taking an anti-seizure medicine.
What if anti-seizure medicines do not work for me?
If you keep having seizures even after trying different medicines, you might have other options. Some people have surgery to remove the part of their brain that is causing seizures. Others get a device put in their chest that helps control seizures.
Until you have your seizures under control, DO NOT DRIVE. The laws that say when a person with seizures can drive are different depending on where the person lives. Ask your doctor if you can safely drive and about the laws where you live.
Also, if your seizures are not under control make sure to take other safety steps. For example, do not swim without someone else nearby who could help you if you started having a seizure. And avoid activities that could result in you falling from a height.
How can I reduce my chances of having more seizures?
— You can:
Take your medicines exactly as directed — at the right times, and at the right doses.
Tell your doctor about any side effects you have. That way the 2 of you can find the best medicine for you.
Be careful not to let your prescription run out. (Stopping anti-seizure medicine suddenly can put you at risk of seizure.)
While on anti-seizure medicines, check with your doctor before starting any new medicines. Anti-seizure medicines can interact with prescription and non-prescription medicines, and with herbal drugs. Mixing them can increase side effects or make them not work as well.
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can increase the risk of seizures, affect the way seizure medicines work, and increase side effects from anti-seizure medicines.
What should my family members do if they see me having a seizure?
Ask your doctor what your family members should do. Some people will have seizures from time to time, and they might not need to see a doctor every time. But if you have a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes or if you do not wake up after a seizure, your family members should call for an ambulance (dial 9-1-1).
Your family members should not try to put anything in your mouth while you are having a seizure. But they should make sure you do not bang against any hard surfaces.
What if I want to get pregnant?
If you take anti-seizure medicines, speak to your doctor or nurse before you start trying to get pregnant. Some anti-seizure medicines can hurt an unborn baby. You might need to switch medicines before you get pregnant.