Abnormal electrical activity in the brain is what makes seizures occur. They may be so minor that they are hardly noticeable or so severe that convulsions of the whole body occur. Epilepsy is a condition in which seizures occur repeatedly. Seizures may be general (involving the whole body) or partial/focal seizures. This second type is the more limited type and involves a limited area like one hand or causes a momentary loss of consciousness (it's sometimes called petit-mal or absence).
Seizures may have a variety of causes. Infants may have febrile seizures with a high fever. Strokes and brain tumors can trigger seizures. Seizures can be the result of a head injury. An imbalance of electrolytes (minerals in the blood like sodium and potassium) can result in seizures. Medication side effects, illegal drugs like cocaine – as well as the withdrawal process from these drugs – and very low blood sugar may also result in seizures. In susceptible people, seizures can be triggered by flashing lights or repetitive sounds.
A family history of seizure disorders increases the risk of developing the condition. Any kind of brain injury or a stroke or infection is a risk for seizures. Sleep disorders – which often indicate some sort of nervous system problem or brain disorder, raise the risk of having a seizure. Any medical problem or medication that can affect electrolyte balance may make a patient more susceptible to a seizure. Illicit drug use or heavy alcohol use can affect brain chemistry and increase seizure risk.
During an acute generalized seizure, the focus is to keep the patient from injuring him- or herself. If the seizure continues or recurs almost immediately, emergency care is required, which may include intravenous medications and oxygen. Ongoing treatment – which is the province of a neurologist – usually involves medications called anticonvulsant drugs or antiepileptics. These medications may have sedative effects or affect the chemicals and electrical activity in the brain.
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