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What Causes Seizures?


Updated June 03, 2014

Do you know what causes seizures? There are many facts about seizures -- some you are probably aware of, and some may be new to you. Here, you'll learn the facts about seizures.

In a normal brain, there are millions of specialized nerve cells, called neurons, that transmit electrical impulses. These impulses communicate with other areas of the brain and serve in the everyday functions of your life. When these impulses misfire, a seizure occurs. Whether you or a loved one has experienced a seizure, there are some basic facts you need to know about seizures:

Seizures are not contagious.

Seizures, whether you have watched one or experienced one yourself, are a very frightening experience. However, you cannot have a seizure by coming into contact with or assisting someone having a seizure.

You can have a seizure at any age.

Seizures can occur from infancy to your later years in life. There are many causes of seizures. For instance, young children and babies are more susceptible to seizures under certain conditions, such as having a fever or too much water. On the other hand, strokes and neurodegenrative disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, may make an older person more susceptible to experiencing a seizure.

Anyone can have a seizure.

You don’t have to have to be diagnosed with epilepsy to have a seizure. Epilepsy implies that you are having multiple seizures. However, a seizure can occur due to a variety of factors, such as a fever, high or low blood sugar, a tumor, injury, electrolyte imbalance, and drug withdrawal. Sometimes, you can correct the underlying factor and will not experience any more seizures. On the other hand, some of these factors, such as a brain injury, may be permanent. In this case, you will require lifelong therapy to manage your seizures.

There are different types of seizures.

Not all seizures look the same. For instance, generalized tonic clonic seizures are characterized by jerking and stiffening of the entire body, whereas in absence seizures, the individual might appear as if they are staring off into space. There are also other seizures that might involve the twitching of a finger or one area of the body.

You can have more than one type of seizure.

Some people think that you can have just one type of seizure when, in fact, you could have more than one. This depends on which areas of the brain are misfiring. For instance, one person can be diagnosed with simple partial seizures and generalized tonic clonic seizures. Additionally, you could be taking a medication to manage your absence seizures, but may then begin to have generalized tonic clonic seizures. In any case, it is always very important to talk to your healthcare provider when this happens, so that they can optimize your therapy to manage them.

You might not need to take medication for your seizure.

This statement does not fit all seizure types, but there are some instances where a seizure may not need to be treated. Febrile seizures in children, in most instances, happen one time and do not need further treatment –- other than lowering the fever. Additionally, imbalances in electrolytes and blood sugar can usually be corrected in order to prevent another seizure from occurring. Your healthcare provider would need to monitor your blood levels –- and your progress –- to ensure that another seizure does not occur.

Treatments are widely varied.

Seizures, as well as other health conditions, vary widely from person to person. Because of this, one drug may not fit everyone. For example, if you and another person suffer from tonic clonic seizures, you might find that you are not taking the same medication to manage them. Your health care provider will find the right medication or other measures to help you manage your seizures effectively. One treatment is not for everyone.


Braunwald E, Fauci ES, et al. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. 2005.

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