How Does a Seizure Occur?

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How Does a Seizure Occur?
How Does a Seizure Occur? (Image: scol22, sxc.hu)

Mechanics

Understanding how seizures happen begins with taking a closer look at the human brain. In a normal individual's brain, specialized nerve cells known as neurons send electrical signals back and forth, carrying the information that the brain processes. Seizures occur when the electrical impulses firing between these neurons misfire or begin to fire much too rapidly. When contradictory signals are sent at the same time, it causes a seizure. Seizures can be characterized by body convulsions. However, someone can have a seizure without the convulsions. "Silent" seizures occur when the person experiencing the seizure suddenly exhibits a blank stare and cannot remember what happened when awareness returns.

Common Causes

In children, sudden high fevers often cause seizures. Although rarely dangerous, these seizures can be frightening for parents. Head trauma can also cause seizures, as bleeding or swelling in the brain disrupts the communication between the neurons. Some people suffer from seizures when they have a serious infection. Meningitis is one infection that commonly causes seizures. Seizures are also caused by neurological disorders, the most common of which is epilepsy. Sometimes people will have a seizure that has no apparent cause.

Understanding Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder. In a typical individual, the brain sends an average of 80 electric pulses per second. In someone with epilepsy, this number can increase to as many as 500 pulses per second, which causes the seizure. The seizure can cause the person to lose consciousness, lose sensation, or experience uncontrolled movements of the body. People with epilepsy often notice certain events that frequently trigger a seizure. Flickering or flashing lights, repetitive sounds, loud noises, alcohol, smoking, headaches, stress, and hormonal changes can all be triggers for epileptic seizures.

Treatments for Seizures

Around 80 percent of epilepsy patients can be treated. Anti-seizure drugs are the most common treatment. Seizure conditions that do not respond to drug therapy may be treated surgically. The surgery attempts to remove some brain tissue in the area where the seizures are occurring. However, because of the risks associated with brain surgery, this is only used after all medication options have been tried. Modern advances in imaging and surgical techniques have made this a much safer option, but when possible, seizures are treated with medication.

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