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Epilepsy – Symptoms and Causes

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
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Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

What is epilepsy? According to modern ideas, epilepsy is a group of different diseases, the main manifestation of epileptic seizures. Based on the achievements of contemporary science, it has been shown that an epileptic seizure occurs as a result of the disorder processes of excitation and inhibition in the cells of the cerebral cortex. The brain consists of a dense plexus of nerve cells interconnected. Cells convert the excitation perceived by the senses into an electrical impulse and transmit it further in the form of electrical stimulation. Therefore, an epileptic seizure can be compared with an electrical discharge like a thunderstorm.

Not all seizures are epilepsy. Anyone can experience seizures at least once in certain situations, for example, at a high temperature (febrile convulsions), after vaccination, with severe traumatic brain injury. The diagnosis of “epilepsy” can be established if a person has two or more epileptic seizures without apparent provoking factors. There are specific characterological features and signs of epilepsy, which we will discuss below. So, to more clearly understand what this disease is, read our article.

Causes for Epilepsy

The causes for symptomatic epilepsy can be associated with various brain damage:

  • Congenital anomalies of its development;
  • Various brain injuries;
  • Viral and parasitic diseases that affect the brain, such as meningitis;
  • The occurrence of tumors and abscesses in the brain;
  • Insufficient blood supply to the brain and oxygen starvation;
  • Antiphospholipid syndrome;
  • Taking certain drugs for depression and mental disorders, antibiotics;
  • Regular use of chemical medications;
  • Intrauterine infections and chromosomal syndromes;

causes of epilepsy

An important role belongs to hereditary predisposition. It has been noted that in those families with relatives who have epilepsy, the likelihood of developing epilepsy in a child is higher than in those families where the relatives do not have diseases. In recent years, the hereditary nature of several forms of epilepsy has been convincingly proven, and the genes responsible for their occurrence have been discovered. 

At the same time, the opinion that epilepsy is necessarily inherited is erroneous. In the vast majority of cases, epilepsy is not a hereditary disease. So it is not transmitted from father or mother to child. Many forms of epilepsy are caused by a combination of genetic and acquired factors. The contribution of genetic factors is significant but not decisive.

There are also cases where it is not possible to determine the cause of epilepsy using magnetic resonance. Such epilepsy is called idiopathic or cryptogenic epilepsy. It is the most common type of this disease. It may be caused by hidden genetic diseases. The first attack in patients suffering from this disease usually occurs at 14 years.

Symptoms of Epilepsy

The general symptoms of epilepsy can be summarized in a series of successive stages of the disease:

  • Harbingers (a headache, a feeling of discomfort, irritability, etc.);
  • Aura (hallucinations);
  • The tonic phase of a seizure (consciousness loss);
  • Clonic phase (development of a classic convulsive seizure).

symptoms of epilepsy

  1. Harbingers. This includes a headache, discomfort, dissatisfaction with one’s own condition, irritability, a decrease in mood, and a decrease in working abilities.
  2. Aura. May manifest as hallucinations. In this phase, a person can see various images, which most often have a frightening character. In addition to various visual images, auditory hallucinations may also occur, and unpleasant odors may be felt.
  3. The tonic-clonic phase of a seizure. Suddenly, a person loses consciousness, all muscles are very tense, but convulsions do not yet occur. He falls abruptly to the floor, almost always biting his tongue. A very characteristic cry is emitted during the fall, which occurs when the respiratory muscles compress the chest due to its tonic tension. The patient stops breathing. The skin first turns pale and then acquires a shade like a bruise. Possible involuntary urination and defecation can occur. Pupillary reaction to light is completely absent. This phase lasts no more than one minute and death can occur from respiratory arrest with a longer course.
  4. Clonic phase. It is characterized by the development of a classic convulsive seizure. Breathing is fully recovered. Foam comes out of the patient’s mouth with small amounts of blood mixed in. The phase lasts 2–3 minutes. When seizures occur as a result of abnormal activity in only one area of the brain, they are called focal. 

Focal Seizures 

Focal seizures can be divided into the following categories:

Name of category Description of the seizure
Simple partials (aura) A common symptom of such seizures are anxiety, smelling extraneous odors, and seeing spots before the eyes. By the aura, many patients determine the proximity of an attack and manage to take measures so as not to be injured in the event of a fall.
Complex partial (psychomotor or temporal lobe epilepsy) The attack proceeds in 3 phases. In the first stage, the patient stops his activity for a few seconds. Then aimless actions begin: a person can take off or put on clothes, unfasten and fasten buttons, fiddle with fingers, smack his lips. In the third phase, consciousness returns but is still confused. After a short period of disorientation, the person may resume the activity.

Generalized Seizures

This kind of epilepsy is characterized by increased activity of nerve cells in both hemispheres of the brain. Among them are the following:

Name of attack Description of the seizure
Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal) During an attack, the patient has convulsions in which the body tenses up, the neck stretches, and the jaws are strongly compressed. The arms are bent at the elbows, and the legs are sharply straightened.
Absence of seizures (petit mal) Seizure symptoms often occur with epilepsy in children. From the side, the child looks like a dreamer who sits motionless and looks at one point for a long time, blinking often.
Myoclonic seizures Attacks are short-term, manifested by twitching of individual muscle groups on both sides of the body.
Tonic seizures Almost all muscle groups are tensed and contracted at the same time. It becomes difficult for a person to breathe, and the eyeballs roll-up. The attack lasts a few seconds.
Clonic seizures Spasms and twitches occur repeatedly. This type of epilepsy is rare.
Atonic seizures (drop seizures, drop attacks) The person feels weak, and cannot move independently but remains conscious. He may fall if muscle control is lost.

Risk Factors

The risk factors are pretty similar to the causes of epilepsy. Among them are:

  1. Features of genetics
  2. Head injuries
  3. Bad habits
  4. Body strain
  5. Tumors, benign and malignant
  6. Brain damage due to stroke
  7. Infectious diseases of the brain
  8. Anomalies of the gestation period, congenital pathology
  9. Birth trauma
  10.  Feverish conditions
  11.  Metabolic disorders

risk factors

Let’s look closer at these symptoms:

  • Features of genetics. Initially, congenital pathology is a manifestation of a mutation in the human genetic code. However, it has not yet been possible to determine whether such changes are inherited reliably.
  • Head injuries. Traumatic brain injury, with significant damage to the brain’s matter, can lead to the formation of electrical activity foci and then to the development of post-traumatic epileptic seizures.
  • Bad habits. The use of narcotic substances and large amounts of alcohol also negatively affects the brain’s functioning.
  • Body strain. This includes stress, emotional overstrain, overwork, and sudden changes in climatic conditions in the region of residence.
  • Tumors, benign and malignant. Neoplasms compress the brain tissue and change their position. The result is seizures similar to epileptic seizures attacks.
  • Brain damage due to stroke.
  • Infectious diseases of the brain and adjacent tissues lead to inflammatory processes in the cortex and subsequent disturbances in its work.
  • Anomalies of the gestation period, congenital pathology. If the mother does not follow healthy recommendations and leads a dangerous lifestyle for the fetus, then the consequences may manifest as an illness in the child.
  • Birth trauma, for example – damage to the skull during childbirth.
  • Feverish conditions, temperature with infections, and other painful conditions.
  • Metabolic disorders result in severe nutritional and mineral deficiencies.

Epilepsy affects about 50 million people worldwide, and it’s mostly people at an early and late age. In children, epilepsy occurs much more often than in adults, which is associated with the characteristics of the nervous system. Excitation occurs in the cerebral cortex faster and easier, and recovery is more complicated.

Triggers of Epileptic Seizure

There are such reasons for seizures:

  • Stress. Almost everyone knows that stress is the cause of most diseases.
  • Unexpected situation. It includes surprises, news, or other sudden changes in activities.
  • Other triggers. There are also individual triggers. For example, the brain may overreact to loud music or a strong smell.
  • Sleep deprivation. It also applies to getting up too early and generally not following the optimal sleep schedule.

Patients who have a certain disease experience understand what kind of their condition can provoke seizures. For some people, even a relaxed state can cause seizures. So they try to keep themselves busy with something constantly.

triggers of epileptic seizure

For example, in photosensitivity epilepsy, provocative moments are:

  • Sun glare
  • Glare from the water
  • Flickering sunlight
  • When a person is on a train

In this type of illness, these triggers should be avoided. Doctors recommend wearing sunglasses with a blue coating. The main recommendation for patients with epilepsy is to adhere to the daily regimen, not go to bed late, avoid sleep deprivation, acute stressful situations, as well as alcohol, and, of course, have a healthy lifestyle.

Complications of Epileptic Attacks

Refusal to seek qualified help from a doctor can cause some severe pathological changes in the patient’s body:

  • Status epilepticus
  • The state of aspiration pneumonia
  • Neurogenic pulmonary edema
  • Mental disorders
  • Sudden death during an attack

complications of epilepsy

  • Status epilepticus – a sharp reduction in the intervals between seizures when the patient does not regain consciousness. In the absence of medical assistance, the onset of a coma is likely. The causes of the phenomenon are the consequences of a traumatic brain injury, infectious diseases, negligence in the passage of the prescribed conservative course, and a tendency to drink alcohol.
  • The state of aspiration pneumonia – is caused by foreign objects or vomit entering the respiratory tract during epileptic attacks.
  • Neurogenic pulmonary edema is caused by an overload of the left atrium due to disorders in the functioning of the nervous system and arterial hypertension.
  •  The development and consolidation of mental disorders include captiousness, aggressiveness, vindictiveness, and depressive states.
  • Sudden death during an attack.

There are also secondary dangers in epileptic seizures:

  • With the development of a generalized seizure, there is a high risk that the patient will get serious mechanical injuries. It can occur near a fire, while driving a car, at a height, in front of a train on a platform, or at work;
  • Long-term seizures that take 6-7 minutes or more carry a high health hazard because the patient can choke on vomit.
  • In addition to the clinical symptoms, a person faces the social and psychological consequences of epilepsy. It is a very stigmatizing disease that reduces the quality and duration of life. The vital activity of patients is reduced for fear of injury during an attack. Epilepsy interferes with the occupation of certain job positions and driving vehicles.

Bottom Line 

Epilepsy is a disease that has many variations, causes, and even possible complications. Therefore, if you notice characteristic symptoms of a seizure behind you, then you should not hesitate to visit a doctor. Of fundamental importance is the timely establishment of the correct diagnosis – a specific form of epilepsy. Diagnosis must be made by a specialist. The treatment strategy and prognosis of the course of the disease depend on the correctness of the diagnosis.


  • What age does epilepsy usually start?

Epileptic seizures can begin at any age – from the neonatal period (the first month of life) to extreme old age.

  • What is the main cause of epilepsy?

It is often assumed that epilepsy originated at the genetic level.

  • What are the warning signs of epilepsy?

Epilepsy signs and symptoms may include:

  1. Temporary confusion
  2. Uncontrolled jerky movements of the arms and legs
  3. Loss of consciousness or understanding of reality
  4. Mental symptoms such as fear, anxiety, or deja vu
  • What are the first signs of a seizure?

The possible onset of an attack is indicated by characteristic signs – deterioration in sleep and appetite, increased irritability, and headache.

  • Can I live everyday life with epilepsy?

The majority of patients with epilepsy have a daily life. And yet there are severe cases due to which people are left without work and cannot do without help in everyday life.

  • Can stress cause seizures?

Stress is one of the reasons seizures occur. It is usually accompanied by feelings such as worry or fear.

  • Can epilepsy go away?

70% of epilepsies respond well to treatment. Some forms of epilepsy stop without therapy at the age of 13-15 years.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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