Epileptic Seizure Warning Signs

When Your Body Sounds the Alarm: How to Recognize an Epileptic Seizure

Coping with an epileptic seizure can be terrifying. They are often unpredictable, episodic, and can vary in severity and duration. However, recognizing some of the warning signs will allow you to be more prepared and capable of acting quickly and effectively when one does occur. The true goal for treating epilepsy is to eliminate seizures altogether, and knowing how to stop one or control it based on symptoms is the first step in doing that.

There are many warning signs (also called ‘auras’) that can occur just before a seizure to alert the body to maladaptive changes. Headaches are one of the most common examples. The person may either experience a gradually worsening headache over the course of several hours or a sudden piercing headache just before the onset of the seizure. Dizziness and confusion also go hand-in-hand with this. These symptoms are due to the nature of epileptic seizures, which are caused by bursts of electricity in the brain. In a normally functioning brain, neurons discharge randomly. In an epileptic brain, however, neurons discharge in a coordinated way, paving the way for electric bursts.

The olfactory and gustatory systems can also be affected both subtilely or dramatically when seizures take place in the part of the brain that controls memories of smell and taste. Sudden and unusual changes to these senses can be quite overwhelming. They can be brief or can carry on after the seizure has ceased. Many people describe a metallic taste just before experience a seizure. Others have reported experiencing a false sensation of bad odors, called ‘olfactory hallucinations’, or a reduction in the ability to taste.

For people with epilepsy, mood disorders may occur not only before, during, or after a seizure but may also be present all of the time. Depression is the most common mood disorder affiliated with the disease, and it’s important for those suffering with epilepsy and their families to recognize the signs of it. Feelings of anxiety and irritability may be severe or even last for a long time, significantly affecting one’s quality of life.

All of these symptoms can often come from triggers and, as such, it is important for epileptics and their friends and family to identify each individual’s unique triggers. Knowing which triggers precipitate a person’s seizures can help individuals recognize when one is coming, which further allows everyone involved to be more prepared; it also lessens the chance of one occurring again the next time that a particular trigger occurs. Examples of common triggers include bright flashing lights, sleep deprivation, alcohol or drug use, stress, hormonal changes, and even certain medications. Eliminating or at least reducing the frequency of these types of triggers is certainly the best approach for at-home treatment of epileptic seizures.

Taking note of what happens to a person before, during, and after a seizure is also of the utmost importance. The observed symptoms that are reported to a doctor or first responder will determine the course of treatment in the event of an emergency.

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