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Seizures that involve convulsions or spasms can be caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Seizures associated with changes in your brain’s electrical activity are called epileptic seizures. Other seizures not caused by a change in electrical activity, but rather a different condition, are nonepileptic seizures. While seizures can be isolated events, recurrent seizures can be a sign of epilepsy.

Treating hundreds of people with seizures every year, the experts at Barnes-Jewish Hospital understand how seizures can impact your life. Our goal is to provide a treatment that allows you to control or even stop your seizures.

When you come to Barnes-Jewish, you will be under the care of leaders in neurology and neurosurgery. Our neurology team includes epileptologists (neurologists who specialize in epilepsy), neurosurgeons, specially trained neuroscience nurses, clinical neurophysiologists, certified neurodiagnostic technicians and other specialists.

Signs of Seizures

Signs and symptoms of seizures may vary, depending on the type. Common symptoms of seizures include:

  • Spasms or shaking
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sudden vision loss/disturbance or eye movements
  • Inability to speak
  • Confusion
  • Staring or unresponsiveness
  • Loss of consciousness followed by a period of confusion
  • Sudden falling
  • Tasting bitter or metallic
  • Grunting, snorting, drooling or teeth clenching

Following a seizure, the person may feel weak or tired or have changes in mood and behavior.

What Causes Seizures?

Conditions that damage the brain or stimulate abnormal electrical activity can cause a seizure. Sometimes the cause of a seizure is unknown. If you have recurrent seizures, you may have epilepsy.

Possible causes of seizures include:

  • Brain or head injury
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or withdrawal
  • Abnormal blood sugar (glucose) or electrolytes
  • Medication side effects
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Genetic disorders and brain abnormalities
  • Infection of the brain or the tissues surrounding it
  • Psychological stress
  • Poisoning, such as carbon monoxide
  • Vascular abnormality, like an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)

Diagnosing Seizures

Accurately diagnosing the cause of a seizure is crucial for treatment. At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU), our neurologists determine the cause and whether your seizures are epileptic or nonepileptic.

Barnes-Jewish is equipped with the most advanced tools, including 24-hour video EEG and intracranial monitoring, to diagnose and better understand your seizures. Diagnosing seizures may include a series of tests, including:

  • Blood and other lab tests to rule out causes such as infection, abnormal blood sugar, organ problems and overdose
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) to record electrical activity in the brain. Video EEG can continuously monitor brain activity around the clock.
  • Brain imaging to search for conditions that may be causing your seizures and help identify the areas of the brain where they are originating
  • Neurological and neurocognitive assessments to understand the cause of seizures and if they are affecting brain function

Seizure Treatment & Prevention

As an Academic Medical Center (AMC) and partner of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish is at the forefront of the latest treatments. Our team of epilepsy specialists collaborates to determine the best treatment option for each patient, whether it be seizure medication or surgery.

Your treatment depends on the cause of your seizures. Recurrent epileptic seizures may be treated with medication, electrical stimulation or surgery to remove the part of the brain causing seizures. Nonepileptic seizures can often be resolved by treating the underlying cause.

To make an appointment with a Washington University neurologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.

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