12 Symptoms of Seizures You Probably Don’t Know

Seizures are caused by an overload of electrical activity in the brain. In other words, they are like a storm of electrical signals that overwhelm normal brain functions. There are about 3.4 million people with epilepsy in the United States, making it one of the most common seizure-related disorders in the country.  

What are the Symptoms of a Seizure?

We tend to associate seizures with dramatic muscle spasms, but seizures can have wide ranging symptoms including memory problems and even uncontrollable laughter. Let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms of a seizure…

12. Momentary Confusion

Momentary confusion is a brief period of time before or after a seizure when a person experiences disorientation and difficulty thinking clearly. Confusion is typically a more mild symptom and can be difficult to detect. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

We all experience confusion from time to time, but the confusion caused by seizures has a very different origin. While the general experience might be similar to other causes of confusion, seizures cause confusion by overloading the brain’s electrical signals. This overload makes it hard to process new information, which leads to confusion. 

Similar to confusion is how the seizures affect our ability to engage with new information… 

11. A Staring Spell

A staring spell is a moment when a person becomes fixated on something in their visual field. This staring might last for 10 to 20 seconds and is usually not accompanied by confusion, drowsiness, or headaches. It is often described as a “vacant stare.”

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

One way to think about seizures is as an overload of electrical activity in the brain. This overload causes our brain’s systems to go haywire for a moment. During this time, the abnormal electrical activity in the brain disrupts normal functionality and causes, amongst other things, staring spells. 

Much like our next symptom, staring spells are an interruption of our ability to control our body’s movements…  

10. Uncontrollable Arm and Leg Spasms 

This is the classic sign and symptom of a seizure; when we see seizures depicted in movies and TV, they are often marked by uncontrollable arm and leg movements. While these are classic symptoms and part of some of the most extreme seizures, it’s important to point out that not all seizures have this symptom. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

When the electrical activity in the brain starts to get out of control, it disrupts the normal functioning of the body. Specifically, the electrical signals of the brain are misfiring, which sends an overload of signals to the muscles. This overload causes these dramatic contractions.

Seizures can also cause symptoms that appear to be more subtle… 

9. Fainting

Fainting, commonly referred to as “passing out,” is when the brain stops receiving enough blood flow to operate normally. This causes a momentary lack of consciousness that is also accompanied by a lack of motor control. It may appear as if a person has just fallen asleep for a moment. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

Seizures wreak havoc on the brain’s ability to send signals to the body. This overload can result in fainting for a few reasons. If the person experiences heightened anxiety, blood pressure issues, and other factors related to fainting. 

Fainting should not be confused with a loss of consciousness… 

8. Loss of Consciousness 

We tend to think of consciousness as “being awake,” but that is an incomplete picture of what being conscious is all about. Consciousness is more broadly our state of being aware of surroundings. Seizures can cause people to temporarily lose this awareness. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

It all comes down to what’s going on inside the brain during a seizure. The overload of electrical activity in the brain causes some of the body’s functions to “get stuck.” When people experience this loss of consciousness it might look like they are just staring at nothing and they might otherwise appear to be awake, but they are unaware of the world around them. 

A loss of consciousness is closely related to the cognitive problems that come with a seizure… 

7. Cognitive Problems 

Our minds can become momentarily derailed by a seizure. This can be experienced in a variety of ways. People who experience seizures face a number of potential cognitive problems as symptoms of their condition. This ranges from memory issues to having difficulty processing information. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

Because seizures are caused by such an overload of electrical signals in the brain, it’s no wonder that the brain has trouble working on cognitive tasks during this time. Which nerves are misfiring and how large the problem is determines the extent of these cognitive problems. 

Our brains are responsible for so much of our daily experiences, which include our emotions… 

6. Emotional Symptoms 

Our brains process cognitive information as well as emotion. People who experience seizures, especially complex focal seizures, can experience emotional problems as part of their symptoms. These issues can be mood swings, feelings of anxiety, or sudden bursts of crying. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

A specific type of seizure known as a complex focal seizure is well-known to cause emotional symptoms. These seizures usually affect nerves near the areas of the brain that process and control our emotional responses to the world. When those nerves start to misfire, it can have a dramatic impact on our emotional states. 

Seizures can have different symptoms depending on the underlying cause and type of seizure… 

5. Loss of Bowel or Bladder Control

Grand mal seizures, also known as tonic-clonic seizures, are known to cause a loss of bowel and bladder control as part of their symptoms. When a person with these conditions experiences a seizure, they might experience incontinence. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

Nerves send signals that control our entire bodies. Everything from involuntary systems like heartbeat to speech rely on accurate nerve signals to function normally. When nerves start to misfire, we can experience loss over systems we usually control, including the bladder and bowels. 

Our body is a complex web of nerves sending signals to each other. We’ve covered signals being sent to parts of our bodies, but what about the signals bringing information back?…

4. Strange Sensory Experiences

A type of seizure known as a simple focal seizure can change how we process sensory information. This seizure can cause individuals to taste, see, and hear things that are not there. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

The misfiring of nerves and overload of electrical signals in the brain does more than just disrupt the signals being sent out to the rest of the body. Our senses work because nerves in our body send signals back to the brain. A seizure can cause the brain to read a “false positive” and detect a sensation that isn’t actually there. 

This overload of stimuli can have some surprising symptoms associated with it… 

3. Laughing and Crying

During a seizure, it is not uncommon for a person to start laughing or crying uncontrollably. This may last for a few minutes. These bouts of laughing and crying might not seem like seizures to the people around them, but this just goes to show how many different types of seizures there are. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

You can think about this in the same way that we tend to think about muscle spasms in relation to seizures. Namely, the brain has an overload of electrical activity and nerves are misfiring. This might come out as uncontrollable movements in the limbs or it might appear as uncontrollable laughter and crying. It all comes down to the type of seizure a person is experiencing. 

Many different types of seizures can cause memory problems… 

2. Memory Problems

Seizures are known to cause temporary memory problems. This affects both the memory during the seizure and the memories that form afterwards. This ranges in severity from being unable to recall the seizure itself to having difficulty forming new memories in the time after a seizure. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

There are a few reasons why seizures cause memory loss. This can be related to other symptoms such as fainting and cognitive impairment, which contribute to memory loss. It can also be related to the specific nerves in the brain that are misfiring. If they happen to be in areas responsible for memory, a seizure can disrupt the formation of new memories. 

Seizures disrupt the normal function of the nervous system and can dramatically impair a person’s ability to control their body… 

1. Muscles Going Limp

During atonic seizures, a person’s body might go limp. This can cause the person to slouch forward, drop what they are holding, or even collapse and fall. This creates a secondary risk of physical injury from falls. 

Why Do Seizures Cause this Symptom?

Like many of the symptoms of seizures, this has to do with the nervous system misfiring and the brain being overwhelmed by abnormal electrical signals. This can cause temporary loss to our ability to control our muscles. This is especially true for people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. 

There are steps you can take to help either yourself or someone you know who is having a seizure.  

Final Thoughts

When a person is experiencing a seizure, there are a few things you can do to help.

  • First, do not try to hold them down or put anything in their mouth. This will only cause worse injuries and risk further harm.
  • It’s much better to clear the space around them and keep any hazardous objects away. 
  • Make sure to time the length of the seizure, as this is vital information for doctors to understand the type and severity of the seizure.
  • Stay with the person until they have fully regained consciousness.

A doctor can help you identify the cause of the seizure and work on a treatment plan. 

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