OHSU

Patient Education

What causes a seizure?

If you have epilepsy, you might have one or many seizures. While your doctor might not know exactly what is causing your seizure, some causes are:

 

In babies younger than 1 year (newborns and infants):

  • Problems during birth
  • Health problems present at birth
  • Fever or infection
  • Metabolic (energy system) or chemical imbalances in the body

In children older than 1, teenagers and adults:

  • Alcohol , drugs or drug withdrawal
  • Head injury
  • Infection
  • Health problems at birth
  • Family history of seizures
  • Brain disease that gets worse with time, such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumor
  • Neurological (nervous system) problems
  • Unknown reasons

What are the symptoms of a seizure?

If you have a seizure, you might have the following warning signs or symptoms:
  • Jerking movements of your arms and legs
  • Stiff body
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Falling suddenly for no apparent reason
  • Not responding to noise or words for a short time
  • Appearing confused or in a haze
  • Feeling sleepy and irritable when you wake up in the morning
  • Nodding your head
  • Fast eye blinking or staring

During the seizure, your lips might look blue and your breathing might not be normal. You may feel sleepy or confused at the end.

Your symptoms may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always talk to your doctor for a diagnosis.


How are seizures diagnosed?

If you are having seizures, you will need medical tests and a complete medical examination to help your doctor make a diagnosis. During the exam, your doctor will take your medical history, including information about when your seizures took place. Seizures may be caused by neurological (nervous system) problems. If you have seizures, you might need more doctor’s appointments and tests.

Tests to diagnose seizures may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) records the brain's electrical activity through electrodes attached to the scalp.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of the body’s organs and structures.
  • Computerized tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images  of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images  of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) measures pressure in the spinal canal and brain. A special needle is placed into the spinal canal in the lower back. This is the area around the spinal cord. . A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is removed and tested for infection or other problems.