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Seizures – Causes and Types

The brain is made up of thousands of cells that process and transmit information to each other. These cells are known as neurons. In healthy brains, neurons interact in a seemingly chaotic, yet controlled and balanced, fashion. The interaction is orderly and involves few, if any, disruptions.

On occasion, neurons misfire. Most misfiring causes little to no disruption and offers no consequence. However, when multiple cells misfire at the same time, problems may arise. The misfiring depends on the location in the brain and the severity of the disruption. When severe, the misfire may result in muscle spasms and twitches – a problem known as a seizure.

A seizure is a sudden electrical surge, or discharge, in the brain that causes behavior changes and alterations with sensation and consciousness. There are three stages of a seizure – the aura (simple, complex, or generalized partial seizure), the ictus (stroke or attack), and postictal (meaning after the attack).

What causes a seizure?

Exact causes of some seizures are difficult to locate. Seizures are often categorized as being unproved or provoked in nature. Unprovoked seizures are considered to be natural seizures, which occur due to some natural phenomena occurring in the body. An example of an unprovoked seizure may be a congenital defect. Other examples of natural seizures include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Genetic factors
  • Infection and/or fever
  • Metabolic imbalances
  • Other, unknown reasons

Provoked seizures are caused by a known event. The patient may remember the exact event that happened to provoke a seizure. Many cases of provoked seizures include trauma to the head. Other examples of provoked seizures include:

  • Brain tumors or trauma
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Medication response
  • Progressive brain disease
  • Stroke

Are there different types of seizures?

Seizures are categorized into two groups depending on the location of the brain the problem originates.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures may originate in any part of the brain, or everywhere in the brain all at once. This type of seizure starts and spreads quickly in the brain. It is difficult to pinpoint the source of the seizure. If the source is unidentifiable, certain treatment options may not be available, such as surgery.

Examples of various types of seizures are:

  • Absense seizures (or petit mal seizures)
  • Atonic seizures, drop attacks
  • Clonic seizures
  • Tonic seizures
  • Tonic-clonic (or grand mal seizures)

Partial Seizures

Partial seizures are also commonly referred to as local seizures, because they originate in one particular area of the brain. The origin is easier to identify than generalized seizures.  Your doctor may be able to observe the region of the brain affected by the seizure and determine where the seizure occurred. Partial seizures may be broken into three categories:

  • Complex partial seizures – Complex partial seizures originate in one specific area of the brain that affects consciousness.
  • Partial seizures – These seizures may spread throughout other areas of the brain and are often known as partial seizures that secondarily generalize.
  • Simple partial seizures – These types of seizures are localized to one area of the brain but may spread out to other parts or sides of the brain. During a simple partial seizure, the individual may not lose consciousness.

It’s important to know the facts about seizures so you know what questions to ask.  Also, knowing your risks, or those of your loved ones, may help you learn what to do to lessen these risks. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss any recent concerns you may have had call Michigan Neurology Institute and Sleep Center at 586-771-7440.