Causes and Meaning of Seizures in Adults

Seizures in adults can be the result of an underlying disorder or they may be caused by an acute injury to the brain.  In either case, they can be dangerous and need to be taken seriously. Medical treatment is both necessary and effective.  Seizures are the results of temporary electrical storms that can occur in the brain.  Seizures happen when there is some form of temporary abnormal electrical activity and brain dysfunction.  Depending on the part of the brain that is affected, the symptoms can vary from full body convulsions to altered sensations, awareness, or behavior.

Seizures are classified as either cryptogenic or symptomatic.  Cryptogenic seizures are those that occur for unknown reasons.  No direct cause of the seizures can be found.  These are most often determined to be epilepsy.  Symptomatic seizures can be linked to a direct cause or central nervous system injury.  An acute symptomatic seizure is one that follows a specific injury to the brain or central nervous system, such as seizures resulting from a drug overdose.  Toxins and brain injuries need to be investigated thoroughly for seizures in adults.

Other insults to the brain that can cause epilepsy are head injuries, strokes, brain tumors, and injuries at birth.  There is also a group of people that are predisposed to seizures through genetics.  Sometimes other illnesses can resemble seizures, such as strokes and panic attacks.

Normally in the brain, there are nerve impulses that are generated and transmitted in a very organized way.  During a seizure, the electrical and nerve impulses, usually beginning in the cerebral cortex, create an outburst of electrical activity.  The outburst of electrical impulses can then spread to other parts of the brain.

The medical world has categorized seizures based on brain involvement and symptoms.

Partial Seizures usually only involve one half of the brain:

Simple Partial seizures usually do not cause a loss of awareness. During this type of seizure in adults you could notice sweating, hallucinations, and twitching.  A person experiencing this type of seizure is able to speak and is awake.

Complex Partial seizures do cause a loss of awareness.  Some symptoms are repetitive behaviors, such as picking at clothing or smacking of lips.

Generalized seizures happened with the neurons in the entire brain are involved:

Tonic – clonic seizures are also called grand mal seizures. There are usually no warning signs that this type of seizure is about to occur.  The muscles suddenly contract making the limbs rigid.  This can cause temporary breathing difficulties.  If someone is standing when this type of seizure happens, they will fall to the ground.  Following the rigidity phase, the body will begin to rhythmically contract and jerk violently.  This phase of the grand mal seizure can last as long as several minutes, but may stop after only a minute.

Absence Seizures are also called petit mal seizures.  This type of seizure usually begins in childhood, but is not unknown for seizures in adults.  During a petit mal seizure, the only noticeable symptom may be a blank stare.

Myoclonic seizures are characterized by sudden jerks.  People experiencing this type of seizure may drop things suddenly.

Atonic Seizures cause a loss of muscle tone which causes the person to fall suddenly.  This type of seizure can cause people to knock their heads or break bones during the sudden fall.

Over time, seizures can change in type and frequency, however most epilepsies are not progressive. Epilepsy is treated with antiepileptic drugs.  There are a multitude of different anti-seizure medications on the market.  Some are more effective for particular types of seizures and they each have different side-effect profiles.  Sometimes seizures that develop during childhood go away over time, but seizures in adults are usually a life-long affliction.