A Service of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Seizures– What You Should Know What are seizures? What happens during a seizure? Is it dangerous to have a seizure? What can a person do to reduce the risk of seizures? What kind of first aid can be given? What medications are there? What should I know about seizure medications? Disclaimer: ?
This information in this booklet is not meant to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Persons should consult qualified physiciansregarding specific medical concerns or treatment.
For more information or to schedule a SCVMC Clinic appointment,call 408 885-5920
What Are Seizures? A seizure occurs when a particular area of the brain fires sponta- neously without voluntary control. They can occur as a result of brain trauma, brain tumors or infections, strokes and metabolic disturbances (alcohol or drug withdrawal, severe body chemistry disorders). It can result in an unexpected sensation (visual image, smell, sound, feeling or taste), motor activity (head, eyes, or limb shaking), and/or change in alertness, ability to speak or under- stand. During a seizure, it is impossible for the person to voluntar- ily stop this activity even if they are awake and alert.
A partial seizure is one that stays in one part of the brain andresults in the loss of use of one part of the body. If it spreads toother areas or the person loses consciousness, it becomes a com-plex partial or generalized seizure. A petit mal seizure is a partialseizure that results in brief loss of awareness, without muscle con-tractions. A grand mal seizure is one where the person immediatelyloses consciousness and may have tonic movements (stiffening ofmuscles), clonic movements (rhythmic jerking of muscles) or lossof ability to move. If the seizure does not stop, it is called status epilepticus and becomes an emergency because the personmay stop breathing, be unable to control their airway and breakdown muscle. When a person has had recurrent seizures, the con-dition is called epilepsy. There are many conditions that are associ-ated with epilepsy. Some of the most common are trauma, stroke,brain tumors, brain abscesses, anoxia, and degenerative condi-tions. IMPORTANT: If the person does not stop seizing or does not awaken between multiple seizures, call 911 IMMEDIATELY. Most seizures last only seconds to minutes. Loss of bowel or blad- der control or tongue-biting may accompany a seizure. After a seizure, the person may be drowsy, weak, confused or have diffi- culty speaking. This may last from a few minutes to several days. During a seizure any of the following can occur:
1) unexpected sensations such as a visual images or numbness
2) unusual smells, sounds, feelings or tastes
3) uncontrolled motor activity—eye movements, facial move-
ments, tongue biting, head or limb shaking
4) sudden loss of ability to speak or understand conversation
5) sudden change in alertness or attentiveness
8) sudden falls from loss of motor control
If the person remains alert, they will not be able to stop this activity. An observer would also not be able to stop it. Is it dangerous to have seizures?
If you are driving, walking, or eating when a seizure occurs, youcould get hurt or hurt someone else. You need to be seizure-freefor at least 3 months and be certified to be safe by a physician andthe DMV in order to resume driving. A seizure that occurs duringthe first week after a TBI or in the first few days after a brain operation is less likely to re-occur (25-30%) than a seizure thatoccurs after the first week (over 80%). Recurrent seizures can causefurther injury and brain damage.
If you have even one seizure, you must report yourself and yourphysician must report you to the DMV. Once you have beenseizure-free for at least 3 months, you may reapply to the DMV forreinstatement. What can a person do to decrease the risk of seizures?
• Treat anything that may cause a high fever.
• Do not drink alcohol: beer, wine, and liquor
• Avoid low blood sugar, especially if one has diabetes mellitus
• Do not use drugs that increase the likelihood of having a
seizure: amphetamines, cocaine, ecstacy, or marijuana. It doesnot matter how these drugs are taken. Any one of them cancause a seizure.
For any prescribed drug ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medication is associated with seizures. Certain medications canincrease your chance of experiencing a seizure, especially after abrain injury
First Aid for Seizures
Observe what happens to the person so you can help the treatinghealth care providers determine what happened. These observa-tions are the most useful information to physicians in determiningwhether the observed behavior is actually a seizure and what type. Try to remember what happened first and later on, how long theepisode lasts, what the person was able to do or say afterwards.
To prevent the person from hurting themselves during the seizure:
1) Loosen tight clothing, especially around the neck
2) If a person is sitting in a chair or laying in bed, hold them so
4) Turn their head and body to the side so that anything in the
mouth, even saliva, does not block the airway. A person cannotswallow their tongue, but the tongue can obstruct breathing
5) Call for help. If you call the physician, have a record of the
person’s medications, including dose and frequency when calling.
6) If the person stops breathing or the seizure does not stop after
3-4 minutes or they don’t become alert after the seizure, CALL 911.
7) Do NOT try to feed the person who has just had a seizure. They
may vomit or have another seizure, which could cause them toaspirate.
8) Do NOT try to put anything in their mouth. EEG (electroencephalogram)
This is a test where brainwaves are recorded from electrodesplaced all over the scalp. It is often helpful to be both awake andasleep during this test. It can sometimes detect seizure activity inthe brain when it is not obvious to an observer or a physician thatan actual seizure has occurred. Often the findings from an EEGare not specific for an actual seizure event and serial EEG tests orcontinuous EEG monitoring with video cameras is necessary todiagnose a seizure disorder. Are there medications?
Antiepileptic medications (AEDs) are often used to prevent ortreat seizures for any of the above conditions. All medications,including AEDs have side effects, some of which may be moreproblematic than the risk for seizures. Seizure risk changes overtime after a brain injury. The highest risk for seizures is during thefirst week after a TBI, so medications are routinely given to prevent an early seizure; they may not be indicated after the firstweek. For other conditions such as brain tumors, there may be anincreased risk for seizures over time. Since you are the one takingthe medication and living with the consequences of having aseizure, it is very important for you to make an informed decisionwith your physician regarding the need for taking AEDs andchoosing the medication that would be best for you. It is extreme-ly important to work closely with your physician regarding thedosing and monitoring of AEDs. Overdoses can be dangerous. Common Antiepileptic Medications (AEDs)
Some of the more commonly used medications for control ofseizures are listed below with their advantages and disadvantages. Each has been associated with birth defects, so continued use duringthe first 20 weeks of pregnancy must be evaluated carefully by thepatient and her treating physicians.Unless otherwise noted, AEDs affect the metabolism of other drugs, especially those metabolized in the liver. Therefore, it is best to try to control seizures using ONE medication. However, if one medication is insufficient, “add-on” drugs can be used.
* indicates that blood levels of the medications are readilyavailable. Drug levels are most helpful to find out how much med-ication is in your body or if you are experiencing side effects. Youand your physician will have to find the dose of medication that isbest for you. It may or may not be in the “therapeutic” drug levelrange. Most side effects or toxicities can be monitored with rou-tine blood tests. *Phenytoin (Dilantin) and fosphenytoin (Cerebyx) Available in IV, extended release capsules, tablets, liquid Advantages: partial or generalized seizures, once/day dosing for capsules, can be loaded PO or IV Disadvantages: small dose increases can cause toxicity at high doses, gum tissue growth demands daily gum care, facial hair growth, slowed thinking, rashes in 20% of users, facial feature changes in nose and jaw, impaired balance, bone weakness. Toxicity: Liver and blood cell production. *Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Tegretol XR, Carbatrol) Available in tablets, liquid, capsules Advantages: partial or generalized seizures. May stabilize mood, outbursts, agitation, tremor Disadvantages: 2-3 x / day dosing, impaired balance, double vision, mild slowed thinking, rashes. Toxicity: blood cell production, liver, blood chemistry disturbance *Valproic acid/ divalproex sodium (Depakene, Depakote, Depakote ER) Available in tablets, capsules, sprinkles, liquid, IV Advantages: petit mal, generalized, some partial seizures. May sta- bilize mood, outbursts and decrease migraine headaches. Less sedating. Disadvantages: 2-3 x / day dosing. Weight gain, hair loss. Toxicity: Liver, pancreas and blood cell production. *Phenobarbital Available in tablets, liquid, IV Advantages: Partial or generalized seizures. 1x/ day dosing Disadvantages: Most sedating, slowed thinking, withdrawal seizures, rashes, drug interactions. Toxicity: blood cell production. *Lorazepam (Ativan) Available in tablets, liquid, IV Advantages: status epilepticus; fastest at stopping seizures, decreases anxiety Disadvantages: 3-4 x /day dosing, sedating, slowed thinking, mem- ory lapses, anti-seizure effect short lasting, habit-forming, with- drawal seizures *Clonazepam (Klonopin) Available in tablets Advantages: generalized seizures, decreases anxiety, tremor Disadvantages: sedating, slowed thinking, memory lapses, habit- forming, withdrawal seizures Gabapentin (Neurontin) Available in tablets, multiple doses Advantages: partial seizures, add-on drug, few interactions, helps burning nerve pain Disadvantages: sedating, weight gain, dose adjustment with kidney disease. Toxicity: white blood cell production. Lamotrigine (Lamictal) Available in tablets Advantages: generalized or partial seizures, Lennox-Gastaut syn- drome, less sedation and slowed thinking, stabilizes mood Disadvantages: Very slow increase in dose to avoid rashes, so may have another seizure before correct dose is reached. Weight gain. Toxicity: Liver, kidney and blood cell production. Levitiracetam (Keppra) Available in tablets Advantages: partial or generalized seizures; Very few interactions; good add-on AED, least sedating, decrease myoclonus. Can increase dose quickly Disadvantages: can increase agitation, dose adjustment with kidney disease, rashes. Toxicity: blood cell production Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal) Available in tablets, liquid Advantages: partial or generalized seizures. Less sedating, fewer side effects than carbamazepine, can help burning nerve pain. No warfarin interaction. Disadvantages: 2x/day dosing, rashes. Toxicity: blood chemistry and cell production Tiagabine (Gabitril) Available in tablets Advantages: partial seizures, very few interactions, may stabilize mood Disadvantages: 2-4 x /day dosing, sedating Topiramate (Topamax) Available in tablets Advantages: Add on treatment for partial, generalized seizures. Once/day dosing Disadvantages: Slow increases in dose, so may have seizure before therapeutic dose reached; vision problems. Toxicity: Kidney, liver, and blood cell production. Zonisamide (Zonegran)
Available in tabletsAdvantages: partial seizures, once/day dosingDisadvantages: slow increases to therapeutic dose, sedating,headache. Toxicity: blood cell production
For More Information The Epilepsy Foundation of America Phone: 1-800-332-1000 Web: www.efa.org National Library of Medicine Web: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seizures.html Interactive Tutorial: www.nlm.nih.gov/ medlineplus/tutorials/seizuresandepilepsyloader.html
Prepared by: The Rehabilitation Research Center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center 751 South Bascom Avenue San Jose, CA 95128 Phone: 408-793-6433 Fax: 408-793-6434 Funded from grants by theU.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS),National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)Updated 02.04 (T-60)
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