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A seizure is a sign that there has been a disruption to the normal functioning of the brain. Seizures can be either provoked or unprovoked. A provoked seizure is caused by a known event such as an illness, flashing lights, stress, or sleep deprivation.
Unprovoked seizures happen without a known cause. For almost 60% of people diagnosed with epilepsy, the cause of their seizures is not immediately known upon diagnosis, and further investigations are needed to determine the underlying cause.
Seizures differ from person to person, and some people experience more than one type of seizure. Depending on the type of seizure, the following things may be experienced:
The term ‘motor’ and ‘non-motor’ are often when describing seizure types. Motor relates to physical movement or motion, and seizures involving motor activity may include either an increase or decrease in muscle tone, leading to muscle twitches, jerks or contractions. Non-motor onset seizures don’t involve muscle action but may include behavioural, emotional and/or sensory activity or actions.
Some people experience non-epileptic seizures, which don’t fit into these three categories.
Types of seizures can include:
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Managing your epilepsy can be challenging. Many people with epilepsy worry that they cannot control their seizures because they often happen without warning. Fortunately, good seizure control is possible for many people if they follow these three important steps:
Epilepsy differs from person to person. Taking the time to understand your epilepsy will help you (and your doctor) better manage your condition. Here is what to do:
Understanding what brings on (triggers) a seizure can help you predict when a seizure might occur. When you understand your triggers, you may be able to reduce your chances of having a seizure. Your seizure triggers will be unique to you, and some people cannot identify their seizure triggers. As a starting point, look out for these common triggers:
Once you know what your triggers are, you can take steps to manage them. Below are some common ways in which other people with epilepsy reduce their seizures:
Remember to take your medication
Anti-seizure medications can help prevent seizures; however, you need to take them as prescribed. Skipping or forgetting to take your medication increases your chances of having a seizure. It can also make your seizures more frequent, intense, or longer. If you find it difficult to remember your medication, simple items such as tablet boxes, timers, and alarms can help. If you are worried about your medication, talk to your specialist or pharmacist.
Get enough sleep
Not getting enough good quality sleep increases your chance of having a seizure. Wherever possible, try to reduce your late nights and keep a regular sleep pattern. If you are worried about sleep, talk to your doctor.
Manage your stress
Stress is part of daily life; however, for some people, it can trigger seizures. If you are experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety, talk to your doctor, as they can help you develop a management plan. Other stress management options include:
Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of your epilepsy medication. It can also interrupt your sleep and lead to missed medication. If you are worried about your alcohol intake, talk to your specialist.
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Some people have seizures if they miss a meal and their blood sugar drops. Try to eat at regular times and have nutritious snacks throughout the day. Eating after exercise is a good idea. Cutting back on caffeine may also help.
Exercise is generally good for people with epilepsy. It can also be good for seizure control. In some rare cases, physical exertion (overdoing it) can trigger a seizure. Talk to your specialist about what exercise is right for you.
Be careful with illness, pain, and fever
Illness, injury, pain, and fever with a high temperature can trigger seizures. If you are unwell or injured, try to keep your temperature down and talk to your doctor.
Understand your hormones
Female hormones can affect seizures. Some women report having more seizures during certain times of their menstrual cycle, after childbirth and leading up to menopause. If you think this may be happening with you, keep a diary and speak to your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about over the counter drugs: Over the counter medications (those you can buy without a prescription) may affect your epilepsy medication. Make sure your doctor knows all the medications you are taking, including herbs and supplements.
Avoid flashing lights and complex patterns: For some people, especially children, flashing lights (photosensitivity) and visual patterns can trigger seizures. Avoid these triggers wherever possible.
Many people with epilepsy report having more frequent seizures when they are stressed. Others, who have experimented with stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, have noticed that they have fewer seizures. While more research into the relationship between seizures and stress needs to be done, reducing your stress levels will likely result in better seizure management.
Stress management cannot replace medication, but taking steps to reduce stress may help reduce your seizure frequency.
What happens when you feel stressed?
When you feel stressed, your body responds by releasing hormones that increase your breathing and heart rates. Your muscles may tighten, and you may experience chest pain, high blood pressure and digestive problems.
Stress can sometimes be difficult to measure. This is because what is stressful for one person will not always be stressful for another.
A great way to monitor stress levels is to check if you (or the person you are caring for) is experiencing any physical symptoms such as tense muscles, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat.
Stress can also cause irritability, memory loss, and constant worrying. Behavioural changes such as finding it hard to relax, having difficulty sleeping, or increased alcohol use are also signs of stress.
Understanding what causes you stress and avoiding unnecessarily stressful situations is a good first step.
If spending time with a particular person or visiting particular places is stressful, try to limit the amount of time you spend on these activities. You may also find the following techniques helpful:
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Epilepsy Smart Australia