A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. When a seizure occurs, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Some common symptoms include losing consciousness, experiencing uncontrollable muscle movement, losing awareness, or experiencing sensory perception changes. The type of seizure you have will determine the symptoms you experience. If you have more than one seizure, your doctor may diagnose you with epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes chronic seizures.

Types of Partial Onset Seizures

A partial onset epileptic seizure affects only a portion of your brain. There are two types of partial onset seizure:

  • A simple partial seizure will not cause a loss of consciousness. Instead, people who experience this type of seizure are more likely to experience a change in emotions or feelings. Sometimes, the way they see, smell, or hear will change.
  • A complex partial seizure causes loss of consciousness and awareness. People who experience this type of seizure may also make non-purposeful movements a seizure, including smacking lips, rubbing hands, or swallowing.

What Causes Partial Onset Seizures

In some cases, understanding what causes, or triggers, a seizure can help you prevent one from happening again. When the exact cause of a seizure can be identified, treatments can be targeted to stop them. Some triggers are easily controlled. Some are less so. The symptoms you experience depend on what caused the seizure and where the seizure occurred in the brain.

Lifestyle Triggers

There are a few possible lifestyle triggers for seizures:

  • alcohol: Liquor, beer, and spirits affect how your brain works. In certain people, it may interrupt normal electrical activity and cause a seizure. Excessive alcohol consumption may be particularly problematic.
  • drugs: Drug use and abuse can cause a seizure. Drug withdrawal can also cause a seizure.
  • caffeine: The stimulant drug found in everything from soda to chocolate may alter your brain’s electrical signals and cause a seizure.
  • nicotine: This addictive chemical can increase a person’s risk for seizure. Nicotine is found in the tobacco in cigarettes. Reduce your risk by cutting back on how much you smoke. Better yet, kick the habit altogether.
  • sleep: Lack of sleep can stress your brain and increase your risk for a seizure. Try to maintain adequate amounts of sleep each night.
  • stress: High levels of unnecessary stress tax the body and can increase your risk for a seizure.

Triggers Out of Your Control

There are other possible triggers for seizure that are out of your control:

  • severe head trauma: Injury to your brain, neck, or head can cause seizures immediately after the injury or even years later.
  • brain infection: Infectious diseases, including meningitis, viral encephalitis, and AIDS, can cause epilepsy and seizures.
  • prenatal brain damage: Injuries to your head sustained before you were born or during labor or childbirth may cause seizures. Other prenatal factors can increase your risk, too. These include oxygen deficiencies, improper nutrition, and mother’s health and habits.
  • developmental conditions: Certain disorders, including autism, are associated with higher incidences of seizures and epilepsy.
  • genetic factors: If an immediate family member has epilepsy, you’re more likely to have it, too.
  • progressive brain disease: Dementia can increase an older adult’s risk for seizures.
  • vascular diseases: Strokes and blood vessel diseases can trigger seizures. Reducing your risk for stroke or heart disease may help reduce your risk of developing epilepsy.
  • brain tumor: In rare cases, a brain tumor might be the cause of epilepsy.

Triggers You Can Treat

There are certain potential seizure triggers that you can treat, including:

  • medications: Withdrawal from certain medications, including sleeping pills and painkillers, may cause a seizure.
  • low blood sugar levels: Diabetics or people with blood sugar-related problems should be aware that a drop in levels could trigger a seizure.
  • fever: High fevers in young children can potentially lead to a seizure.
  • malignant hypertension, or very high blood pressure: Reduce your blood pressure through medication and lifestyle measures.

Seizures Without Apparent Cause

In some cases, doctors may not be able to determine an identifiable cause for your seizures. Seizures without a cause are called idiopathic seizures. Most cases of idiopathic seizures occur in children and young adults, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In those cases, many researchers believe the cause is related to the person’s genes or family medical history, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Warning Signs of a Seizure

According to the NIH, you may experience warning signs before you have a seizure. Some people will experience one of the following symptoms before the attack begins:

  • anxiety or fear
  • nausea
  • vertigo, or dizziness
  • visual changes, including seeing flashing lights, spots, or wavy lines in their field of vision

If you have a history of seizures or have been diagnosed with epilepsy and you notice these signs before an epileptic episode, be sure to alert someone who can monitor you for a seizure.

Record Your Seizures

Your doctor only gets a short period of time with you during each visit. Your seizures are likely not occurring during this time. That’s why it’s important that you and someone you trust take notes about each seizure you have. Your doctor needs to know how often they occur, what you did immediately before each seizure, and what you experienced during the seizure. This information may help them get a correct diagnosis, determine your triggers, and decide what type of treatment is best for the seizures you’re experiencing.

Work with Your Doctor

Finding the cause of your seizures can take some time. Medical tests can only identify a few of the many causes. If a cause is determined, finding a treatment may take some time, too. It’s important that your doctor knows exactly how well your treatment is working and how you’re responding. With the help of a friend or loved one, keep a written record of your seizures and share it with your doctor. That’s the most efficient way for you and your doctor to find a treatment that can prevent seizures in the future.