Seizures are caused by an abnormal focus of electrical activity within the brain. The causes of seizures are quite varied and include:
- the presence of a tumour or blood in the brain1
- the presence of scarring within the brain from surgery or radiotherapy2
- high fevers3
- some medications or drug withdrawal
- head trauma2
There are many different types of seizures with a range of signs and symptoms. In general, seizures may be divided into 2 categories:
- Focal seizures are due to an abnormal electrical impulse that is confined to a small area of the brain.5 Focal seizures can produce abnormal sensations, such as numbness or tingling; involuntary movement of a limb or twitching in the face; or a temporary inability to speak.5 6 The symptoms experienced by the person having the seizure are related to the location within the brain of the abnormal impulse. Therefore, a focal seizure tends to be experienced in the same way each time a person has one.7
- Generalized seizures occur when the abnormal impulse is transmitted across a larger area of the brain.5 Consciousness is affected and there may be convulsions and/or loss of bowel and bladder control. Often, there is little or no memory of the seizure for the person affected once the seizure ends.
Seizures tend to be brief, lasting 30–60 seconds. Focal seizures may evolve into generalized seizures.
Seizures are managed with seizure medications (antiepileptic drugs), which reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, but may not eliminate them completely. Many people who are affected by seizures continue to work. There may be some restrictions on activities, however. For example, there are legal implications regarding driving for those who have had a seizure or who stop taking seizure medications. Special precautions may need to be in place if you operate heavy machinery, climb ladders, work on rooftops, cycle, scuba dive or perform other activities that could be dangerous if you have a seizure.
For more information about driving restrictions, see Driving & brain tumours from the BC Cancer Agency.
What you can do
Ask your healthcare team if you are at risk for seizures and how they can be prevented. If you have had a seizure, ask your doctor if you should be taking seizure medication. Even if you are taking seizure medication, you may still be at risk for seizures, and sometimes people need to be on more than one seizure medication. Learn how to prevent seizures if you are prone to them.
Some precautions to follow, even if you are taking medication to prevent seizures, include:
- Tell your healthcare team if you are taking any new medications because drug interactions are common and can make your seizure medication less effective.
- Avoid physiologic stress, for example from dehydration or skipped meals.
- Avoid intense temperatures, for example, saunas.
- Get enough rest and good sleep, as being overtired can provoke seizures.
- Make sensible accommodations, avoid serious injury if a seizure should occur, for example: wear a helmet when cycling; swim or hike with a buddy; take showers, not baths.
- Teach your family members and work colleagues what to do if you have a seizure.
- Know the signs of seizure medication toxicity, including slurred speech, visual changes, nausea and imbalance. Seek medical attention if you experience these problems, as your medication dose may need to be changed.
- Read the First Aid for Seizures pamphlet from Epilepsy Ontario.
Modify your work tasks and how you work:
- Identify high-risk situations for injury (for example, working at heights, working with heavy equipment), and work with your employer to find alternative tasks that would reduce the chance of injury to yourself and others in case of a seizure.
- Reduce the risk of injury by using safety equipment when possible (for example, harnesses).
- If you work alone or in an isolated area, consider an AutoAlert lifeline, which will contact emergency services in case of a fall.
- Identify any potential seizure triggers and work with your employer to eliminate or reduce them (for example, high level of stress, over-fatigue, flickering lights).
Modify your work schedule:
- Avoid fluctuating shift work.
- Identify and request shift preference (for example, day shifts only) to prevent over-fatigue.
Keep your body fuelled:
- Sip from a water bottle throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- Keep healthy snacks nearby to help you recharge throughout the day.
It’s not unusual for people who have seizures to also have changes in their memory. Please see the cognitive challenges section for tips on dealing with these concerns.
Modify your work environment:
- Educate your workplace and co-workers on your condition and discuss the appropriate steps to take if you have a seizure.