A seizure happens when electrical activity in the brain surges suddenly. The brain and body are affected in different ways depending on where the activity occurs.
Some patients have an unusual sensation or feeling, known as an aura, that alerts them to an upcoming seizure before it happens. The aura is actually a simple focal seizure, also known as a partial seizure. These types of seizures only affect a small part of the brain and only occur in one side of the brain.
Auras are partial or focal seizures that sometimes happen before a more severe seize occurs. Aura symptoms include feelings such as:
- Déjà vu, the sense that something has happened before
- Impending doom
Less common symptoms associated with auras include changes in:
- Sense of smell
Causes and Risk Factors
The underlying cause of seizures is often unknown. In some cases, patients may be more likely to have auras or seizures due to their genetics, traits they inherited from their parents.
Other causes include:
- Alcohol or drug use
- Head trauma
- Conditions present at birth (congenital)
- Genetic factors
- Progressive brain disease
- Alzheimer's disease
- Brain tumor
The most useful test in diagnosing seizures is an electroencephalogram (EEG). This test records electrical activity in the brain. It can show abnormal spikes or waves in electrical activity patterns. Different types of epilepsy can be identified with these patterns.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may also be used. The scans can reveal scar tissue, tumors or problems in the brain. It can also rule out other possible causes such as a stroke.
Medication is the most common treatment for many seizures. Anti-seizure (or anti-epileptic) medications can be very helpful. It may take a few tries to find the right drug and the right dose. The doctor will watch for side effects to find the best option. These medications include:
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal) has fewer side effects than the other two medications but may also be less helpful.
A vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) is sometimes implanted and used along with anti-epileptic medication to reduce seizures. The VNS is a device placed under the skin of the chest that sends electrical energy through the vagus nerve in the neck to the brain.
Surgery may also be an option for some patients when medication is not controlling seizures.
Cedars-Sinai has a range of comprehensive treatment options.