What Causes Seizures?

A friend of mine recently had a seizure. Because of a fall that was a result of the seizure, he is in critical condition. He and his family have no history of seizures. Could you please tell me why a person would have a seizure completely out of the blue?

The first time I saw someone have a seizure was when I was in the seventh grade attending a school dance. We were in a group, milling about the dance floor, enjoying the music, when all of a sudden a young girl collapsed on to the floor. She began to shake all over with hands and teeth clenched, she had snorting respirations, and she was frothing about the mouth. She jerked about uncontrollably as I watched a parent chaperone rush over and try to insert something between her jaws in an attempt to prevent her from biting her own tongue. After a minute or so, the horrible movement stopped and she lay there, unresponsive, then moaning and incoherent. She had urinated in her pants. The sight of such uncontrolled and startling body movement stirred feelings of revulsion and sympathy, horror and confusion, occurring as it did in the midst of the excitement of the dance and the self-consciousness of adolescence.

What Causes Seizures?

I wasn’t the first to be shocked while witnessing a seizure. Dramatic, episodic and apparently random, seizures seem to come right out of the blue. Many theories have been advanced over the centuries as to their origin. Folklore, sorcery, pagan beliefs and pious healing have all been invoked in order to exorcise the demon, remove the toxin, or correct the imbalance. In the 14th century, the physician to King Edward II recommended reciting the gospel over an epileptic patient while bedecking him with peony or chrysanthemum amulets. (Peony root was used by Apollo in Homeric Greece. Apollo was physician and healer to the other gods, and chants or prayers for cure or thanksgiving were subsequently called paeans after the peony plant.)

In medieval days, mistletoe stems were sometimes hung around the necks of children in order to prevent convulsions, while more recently women were burned to death, accused of being witches, after experiencing an attack of epilepsy. The Nazis, in their well-documented attempts to purify the master Aryan race, set about sterilizing or executing anyone deemed to be weak, inferior or genetically suspect. In a frightening and sorry chapter in the annals of the medical profession, doctors and psychiatrists lined up to sterilize or euthanize 400,000 mentally handicapped and alcoholic individuals including people whose only misfortune was to suffer from a seizure disorder.

Still today, we do not understand why people get seizures. A seizure, or convulsion, can be thought of as an electrical storm of the brain. Instead of the rhythmic, controlled and patterned electrical activity found in a normal brain, people with epilepsy have a focus of spiking electrical discharges detectable with a test called an EEG. Periodically, and for reasons poorly understood, the electrical spikes suddenly spread, sending a wave of chaotic electrical current coursing through the brain, resulting in a seizure. When the electrical activity subsides, the seizure ends.

The first time a person has a seizure it is necessary to perform tests in order to look for such possible causes as a brain tumor or a stroke. Very often there is a history of trauma to the head, perhaps a concussion or direct blow, and it is thought that a small scar results, predisposing the patient to epilepsy later in life.

Sometimes no cause can be found, but at least contemporary society has tired of trying to demonize or stigmatize those who suffer from seizures. There are a variety of medications used to treat epilepsy, and except for unusually severe cases, the treatment is fairly effective. Hopefully, your friend will recover from his trauma and be back on his feet before too long.

The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

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