Seizures, a medical condition characterized by a temporary and uncontrollable surge of electrical activity in the brain, have been a subject of intrigue and misconception throughout history. Seizure arises when specific brain cells undergo an overwhelming release of signals, creating an electrical overload in the affected regions of the brain.

The consequences of this electrical overload are diverse, leading to a spectrum of symptoms such as abnormal sensations, loss of consciousness, and uncontrolled muscle movements. The intricacies of seizure manifestations necessitate a comprehensive understanding to tailor effective management strategies.

Contrary to ancient beliefs across multiple cultures associating seizures with possession by evil spirits or demons, modern medicine has unveiled the reality that seizures can affect anyone. Moreover, some individuals may be more predisposed to experiencing seizures than others. This article aims to unravel the complexities of seizures, shedding light on their causes, types, diagnostic approaches, and treatment options to empower individuals in navigating this intricate neurological terrain.

Types of Seizures

Seizures can manifest in various forms, and understanding the distinct types is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective management. Here, we’ll explore the two primary categories: focal seizures and generalized seizures.

Illustration of an EEG of the different types of seizures

Focal Seizures

Focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, originate in a specific area of the brain. The symptoms can vary widely based on the affected region. Focal seizures are further classified into two types: simple and complex.

  • Simple Focal Seizures: In these seizures, an individual remains conscious but may experience unusual sensations, such as tingling or flashing lights. They might also involve involuntary jerking of body parts.
  • Complex Focal Seizures: These seizures can alter consciousness, leading to a dreamlike state or repetitive movements. Afterward, individuals might have no recollection of the episode.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures involve abnormal electrical activity throughout the entire brain, affecting both hemispheres. This type is characterized by widespread symptoms that often impact the entire body. There are several subtypes of generalized seizures:

  • Tonic-Clonic Seizures (Grand Mal Seizures): These seizures are perhaps the most widely recognized. They involve stiffening (tonic phase) and subsequent jerking (clonic phase) of the muscles. Loss of consciousness is common.
  • Absence Seizures (Petit Mal Seizures): These seizures often present as brief lapses in awareness, sometimes accompanied by subtle movements such as blinking or lip-smacking. They are more common in children.
  • Atonic Seizures: Atonic seizures, also known as drop attacks, result in a sudden loss of muscle control, leading to a person collapsing or falling.
  • Clonic Seizures: Characterized by rhythmic, jerking muscle movements, clonic seizures can affect various parts of the body.
  • Myoclonic Seizures: These involve brief, shock-like muscle contractions and may affect a specific group of muscles or the entire body.
Man with headache with an illustration of a brain

Causes of Seizures

Seizures can stem from a variety of causes, encompassing:

  • Epilepsy: A chronic neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures.
  • Head Injury: Trauma to the head, such as concussions or severe blows, can trigger seizures.
  • Brain Infection: Infections affecting the brain, like encephalitis, may lead to seizures.
  • Stroke or Brain Bleeds: Disruptions in blood flow to the brain or bleeding within the brain can induce seizures.
  • Birth Defects, Birth Trauma, and Genetic Factors: Congenital abnormalities, traumatic birth experiences, and genetic predispositions contribute to seizure occurrences.
  • Some Prescription Medicines: Certain medications may act as triggers for seizures in susceptible individuals.
  • Brain Tumours and Other Medical Conditions Affecting the Brain: Conditions impacting the structure or function of the brain, including tumors, can be associated with seizures.

Common Seizure Triggers for Some Individuals

  • Recreational Drugs, Alcohol, Caffeine, and Energy Drinks: Substances like drugs and alcohol, as well as stimulants like caffeine and energy drinks, can provoke seizures.
  • Dehydration or Prolonged Fasting: Insufficient fluid intake or prolonged periods without eating can serve as seizure triggers.
  • Hormone Level Changes in Females: Fluctuations in hormonal levels, especially in females, can influence seizure susceptibility.
  • Flashing Lights: Visual stimuli, such as flashing lights, may trigger seizures in certain individuals.
  • Lack of Sleep: Sleep deprivation is a known factor that can lower the seizure threshold.
  • Extreme Stress: High levels of stress can contribute to seizure episodes.
  • Being Sick, Even Without a Fever: Illness, even in the absence of a fever, can be a triggering factor for seizures.

Understanding these diverse triggers is crucial in developing personalized approaches to seizure management and prevention.

Alcohol and various drugs and a syringe
Unconscious man on the floor

Signs and Symptoms

Seizure symptoms exhibit considerable variation, encompassing a sudden shift in awareness or complete loss of consciousness. Individuals may experience unusual sensations or thoughts during a seizure, adding to the complexity of the experience. 

Additionally, seizures may manifest as involuntary twitching or stiffness in the body. In more intense episodes, there can be severe stiffening and limb shaking, often accompanied by a loss of consciousness—commonly referred to as convulsion. 

Understanding the diverse physical symptoms is essential for both individuals undergoing seizures and those providing support.

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation

Seeking a diagnosis for seizures involves a comprehensive process carried out by healthcare professionals, typically neurologists. The diagnostic journey possibly includes these tests:

Doctor examines MRI scan result of the head
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • This test records brain activity through electrodes placed on the scalp, helping identify abnormal electrical patterns indicative of seizures.
  • Blood Tests
  • Comprehensive blood tests examine metabolic and blood chemistry imbalances, immune system issues, as well as the presence of toxins or poisons that may contribute to seizures.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
  • CT scans provide detailed images of the brain, aiding in the identification of structural abnormalities or injuries that may be linked to seizures.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • MRI scans offer a more detailed view of the brain’s structure, assisting in pinpointing potential focal points for seizures and identifying any underlying causes.
  • Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture)
  • In some cases, a spinal tap may be recommended to analyze cerebrospinal fluid, providing additional insights into potential causes of seizures.

The goal of these diagnostic tests is not only to confirm the occurrence of a seizure but also to determine its origin, especially if there’s a focal point. Identifying a specific area where seizures originate is crucial, as it significantly influences the choice of treatment strategies.

Genetic tests may also be suggested to uncover any inherited conditions contributing to seizures, providing valuable information about the nature of the seizures an individual may experience.

In the hands of skilled healthcare providers, these diagnostic tools contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the seizures, guiding the formulation of personalized and effective treatment plans tailored to the individual’s unique circumstances.

Providers may also recommend additional tests if there is suspicion of injuries, side effects, or complications arising from seizures. It is essential to trust the expertise of the healthcare provider, who will advise on the types of tests needed and the reasons behind each recommendation.

Treatment Options

Medications for Seizure Control

Medications serve as the frontline defense for individuals with epilepsy. They come in various forms, each tailored to address specific seizure types. Some medications act in real-time, halting seizures as they occur, while others work preventively, reducing the frequency of episodes. Intravenous (IV) medications offer immediate relief during a seizure, while daily oral medications provide ongoing management.

Epilepsy Surgery

In cases where medications prove ineffective, epilepsy surgery emerges as a potential solution. This procedure aims to halt seizures by removing or disconnecting the problematic brain area. Healthcare providers recommend an evaluation for epilepsy surgery if seizures persist despite trying two anti-seizure medications at recommended doses.

Dietary Changes

Dietary modifications, such as adopting low-carb or ketogenic diets, offer an alternative approach for seizure control. These specialized diets have shown the ability to either entirely stop or significantly reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Particularly beneficial when medications or surgery are not feasible, these diets provide a unique avenue for certain individuals.

Brain Stimulation

Two innovative forms of brain stimulation—deep brain stimulation and responsive neurostimulation—have demonstrated efficacy in seizure management. These treatments involve the implantation of a device into the brain, delivering a mild electrical current to interfere with and disrupt seizure-related electrical activity. This approach represents a cutting-edge option for those seeking alternatives to traditional treatments.

Vagal Nerve Stimulation

The vagal nerve, the 10th cranial nerve directly connected to the brain, plays a crucial role in seizure management. Electrical stimulation applied to the left side of the vagal nerve has shown promise in reducing the frequency of seizures. Vagal nerve stimulation represents a non-invasive yet impactful method, providing an additional avenue for individuals seeking diverse approaches to seizure control.

Complications and Side Effects of Treatment

The complexities and potential complications of seizure treatments are diverse, influenced by factors such as the underlying cause, seizure type, and the chosen treatment modality. Healthcare providers offer personalized insights into the likely side effects and complications based on an individual’s unique case. Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional ensures accurate and tailored information pertinent to the specific circumstances of the person undergoing treatment.

Illustration on the do’s and don’ts of seizure first aid

Dos and Don’ts of Seizure First Aid


  • Ensure they can breathe by loosening any clothing around their neck.
  • Remove dangerous objects from their surroundings to prevent injuries.
  • Place them in the rescue position by turning them on their side to protect their ability to breathe and avoid inhaling fluids.
  • Attempt to time the seizure to provide critical information to healthcare providers and assess the need for emergency medical help.
  • Stay with the person as they recover, offering reassurance and comfort during the post-seizure period.
  • Check for injuries after the seizure, especially if there’s a risk of head, neck, or back injuries, and seek medical care if needed.
  • Call for help if the person experiences status epilepticus, where seizures last more than five minutes or if another seizure occurs before recovery from the first. Immediate emergency assistance is crucial.


  • Avoid restraining the person during a seizure to prevent causing harm to them or yourself.
  • Refrain from putting anything in their mouth, as this can lead to injury. Common myths suggest using items like belts or spoons, but it is not recommended.
  • Stay calm and avoid panicking, reassuring others around you. It’s essential to remain composed, as the majority of seizures resolve within five minutes.


While complete cure may not be guaranteed, effective treatments, including medications and lifestyle adjustments, can significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures.

No, seizures can stem from various factors beyond epilepsy, such as genetic predispositions, brain injuries, or underlying medical conditions.

Ensure their safety by moving dangerous objects, place them in the rescue position, time the seizure, and stay with them during recovery. Call for emergency help if the seizure lasts more than five minutes or if another occurs rapidly.

No, putting objects in the mouth, like belts or spoons, is not recommended. It can lead to injury. It’s crucial to focus on ensuring a safe environment and providing supportive care.

Yes, living with seizures can affect mental health. Emotional support and addressing the psychological aspects of seizures are integral components of holistic care to improve overall well-being.